By now, if you’re a comic book film fan you’ve probably seen the months-long raging debate about spoiler policies and posting of spoilers by the media. You’ve most likely heard the recent claims that spoilers are supposedly “good for you” after all, according to a “study” by University of California San Diego, psychology researchers who claim that knowing spoilers in advance actually makes you enjoy stories more.
Some fansites have been trumpeting this study as evidence that vindicates their own posting of spoilers -- including, at times, right in headlines where even a simple Google search of a character name returns article headlines that give away huge spoilers about upcoming films.
This search for justification is, in and of itself, a mere distraction from the key point. The real issue isn’t whether or not some sites, some researchers, or some fans don’t think spoilers hurt anybody, it's whether or not people who don’t want to have certain information imparted to them should have it pushed into their awareness explicitly against their wishes.
Let’s get something out of the way right now. This study is really a SURVEY, and it’s about BOOKS, not FILMS. It was a study using only 30 people and 12 books. The primary reason given for spoilers not ruining the enjoyment of the novels is that the literary quality of the read was such that it was still enjoyable. And it was simple self-reporting enjoyment or lack of enjoyment of books after a brief bit of spoiler info was provided in some cases. And the degree of supposed higher enjoyment of “spoiled” books was very slight, and in one case people did prefer not to be spoiled. And one-third of the books really didn’t even involve anything of a twist or secret to be “spoiled” anyway.
Here's the bottom line: This study/survey proves little to nothing about spoilers and novels, and it definitely says nothing whatsoever about film spoilers. I’ll note again -- this time with an actual quote from the “study” -- that the key reason people said spoilers didn’t ruin the enjoyment of the book was due to the nature of literature being significantly impacted by writing quality: “What the plot is, is almost irrelevant. The pleasure is in the writing.”
The deeper point was that once people knew the twists and spoilers, they didn’t have to concentrate on “figuring out” what was going on or keep up with things as much, and could instead read with more ease and comfort. At which point it becomes somewhat relevant to note that some of the books used in this “study” were the works of Anton Chekhov, Roald Dahl, John Updike, and Raymond Carver. Why is that relevant?
Have you ever READ Chekhov?
It’s relevant because the depth of writing, often so verbose and complex that even literary fans find it can take several rereads to fully grasp everything in the story and the themes etc, makes some of these books pretty bad choices in a study in which you try to measure whether people want you to explain it to them before they start reading it.
Regardless, this study says nothing at all about film spoilers, and it is intellectually vacant to pretend there’s any serious application to the ongoing debate about sites spreading spoilers and set photos about films. The bigger context is that we are specifically talking about instances of people who personally explicitly don’t WANT spoilers and try to avoid them, so claiming that their anger and frustration isn’t real, and that it won’t impact their enjoyment of the film and has no bearing, is equally ridiculous.
If sites want to justify the continued illicit spreading of spoiler information, set images, and other things -- as well as the constant resort to inserting spoilers in headlines and tweets and so on -- they better find a better argument than this non-substantive claim that “studies show spoilers are good for you” and other nonsense.
They need to remember that the real key here is that a lot of people are specifically making a choice to try to avoid spoilers. While it’s part of our own responsibility to avoid Google searches and fansites when so many spoilers are spreading, we also live in the real world, so it’s unrealistic to act like people should just have to become hermits and avoid all modern social media and technology just for the sake of remaining unspoiled for a future film.
Responsible sites that care about fans and respect filmmakers need to start acting like it, instead of catering to the lowest common denominator and giving way to the pressure to try and scream secrets the loudest and quickest. They only besmirch their own good names with this kind of behavior and give the false public impression that ALL fans are simply impatient, immature fanboys with a constant sense of unearned and undeserved entitlement.