I'm not talking about whether you see it in a theater or at home, or what snacks you eat, or whether you have loved ones with you or solitude. I'm talking about how much you know about the movie before you watch.
Years ago, a friend of mine was bored in a strange city, so she went into a movie theater to see whatever movie was next. She ended up seeing, without knowing a thing about it beforehand, PRINCESS BRIDE. I've always envied that experience, which must have been very pure and startling.
Me, I sat down once to watch BETRAYAL on cable. I'd studied a couple of Pinter's plays in a college drama class and liked them. Still, I didn't know a thing about it except for his name.
It's an amazing movie; I won't tell you anything about it except that it's told in reverse order. The film starts with the end of an affair and ends with the beginning. I mention that because that structure and how it affects the viewer is relevant to the discussion of spoilers I want to have.
Terry Rossio, a screenwriter who hosts the Wordplay site, has often talked about the "phase space" of the story. (I'm sure that term will annoy some of you, but bear with me). The phase space is the realm of all possible story choices that can be made, and the act of creating the story can be seen as narrowing all those possibilities into one story.
The first choice that narrows the range of choices is the medium: A movie will be told with image and sound, and even if the story chronology jumps around, film is an essentially linear format, being a long succession of still photos run very quickly through a projector. A book is also linear in that way.
The second thing that narrows the range of choices is the creator. I'm never going to write a book about a professor who falls for a co-ed, or a couple who never communicate and slowly spiral toward divorce. Harold Pinter will never write a play about Lady Silvercat, forgotten princess of the elven city of Tiara Falls. George Lucas will never make a movie about people I care about. We all limit ourselves.
The third choice that will narrow the range of choices is... well, after you get through the medium and the creator you have any number of considerations and no set order for how these choices get made. Genre? Setting? A cash offer to write a something specific? It could be any of those things, and the process of writing is (in part) the process of sweeping away all the choices that won't work, have been done to death or aren't interesting enough. (The process of writing is other things, too, but I'm not talking about that right now.)
But that's looking at this from the creator's pov. From the pov of an audience member, the phase space is wide open. You have a title, maybe a poster or cover art, and from there you sit down and experience the film/book/whatever.
Sure, there are formulaic story elements that are plot giveaways: That bald guy? Secret bad guy. The hero's dog? Gonna get shot. The arrogant jerk who insulted Our Heroine? Love interest, once he gets his act together. Character afraid to fly? They'll be in the cockpit, trying to land a plane by act 3. Is there a good guy? He'll win.
But beyond that, I don't like having a plot spoiled. I want as much phase space as I can get. If someone's told me that so-and-so dies, I can't watch that character without looking for that plot point. I just keep thinking about it, waiting for it to happen, and that expectation overrides the rest of the story.
Me, I'm a clock person. I'm a map person. I like to know where I am and how I'm oriented. When I drive long distance, I study the upcoming exits: which is next? How many more until mine? How many miles? How long will that be?
That's why I don't want to be told which of the houseguests is actually the killer. I end up second-guessing every scene. I end up waiting for something to happen rather than going along with the story.
There's an exception to this: A story that's told out of order, or that starts at the end and goes back to the beginning (like SUNSET BOULEVARD or, yes, BETRAYAL) are perfectly cool, because they're designed to be experienced that way.
Why am I talking about this today, well past the end of my supposed lunch break? Nick Mamatas posted a bit of snark aimed at folks who hate spoilers and of course his example was of someone being completely ridiculous.
But one person's concerns don't become assinine just because some other person somewhere has an extreme, assinine version of that concern, not even in a P.J. O'Rourke column. You can't demonstrate that something is a bad idea just by pointing to the worst version of that idea.
In comments to Nick's post, people are posting the usual dopey responses like spoiler warnings "priviledge" plot over everything else (when they actually do nothing more than acknowledge the value of plot). Not to mention: "If "spoilers" really mattered, nobody would ever keep a book, or own a DVD."
Yeah. Sure. Keep thinking that.
Anyway, I guess this is my homage to plot. I like plot, and I like plots that surprise me. I can understand why people might not care about spoilers. I can totally understand why people would hate to be told what they can or can't say.
But I don't like spoilers and I do like warnings.