In the world of popular entertainment, April and May marked the release of Marvel Studios’ billion-dollar superhero movie Avengers: Endgame, as well as the final season of HBO’s medieval fantasy series, Game of Thrones (GoT). Arguably two of the biggest entertainment spectacles of the decade, social media was, and still is, abuzz with discussions about both — the stories, their characters, fan theories. And spoilers.
Endgame is the final chapter of the Avengers series of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which began in 2008. GoT premiered with its first season in 2011, as a television adaptation of George Martin’s long-running series of novels A Song of Ice and Fire. Both are stories carefully crafted over the years. There are similarities between the marketing campaigns for both franchises, featuring interviews with the cast, and special trailers. Both have also developed passionate fan-bases across the world. However, what is noteworthy, is the extreme lengths that the creators went to, in order to avoid getting the story out before its scheduled date/time. Marvel Studios intentionally loaded their trailers for Endgame with scenes that were out of context. They even included scenes which are not even a part of the final movie. Meanwhile, the creators of GoT deliberately shot multiple endings and fake scenes to throw off leakers.
Now, the fact that nearly anyone who has any inkling of popular culture knows about Avengers and GoT makes it difficult to avoid conversations about them. Even those who haven’t watched the movies or the series are familiar with Iron Man, Thor, Arya Stark or Tyrion Lannister. Therefore, when Endgame and GoT released — very close to each other’s release dates — it started a race amongst the fans to either keep up or get their viewing experience spoiled. The internet and social media further complicate things. There is an entire category of trolls online, on social media especially, who delight in spreading popular culture spoilers. They are commonly found on Facebook and in the YouTube comments section, talking about plot twists and character deaths that were actually supposed to be a surprise for viewers.
This extreme obsession with spoilers is, in fact, a hallmark of the 21st century. It is not just the trolls, though, who hide behind the safety of their anonymity. We all have people around us — family, friends and colleagues — who derive great pleasure in intentionally spoiling movies and TV series for others. Some individuals even go to great lengths of personally messaging people with spoilers. For many, this behaviour may not be a serious transgression — it’s just a movie and a TV show, but, the fact that this is commonplace, raises questions about how little we value art and entertainment. People who give out spoilers don’t see that these stories — unbelievable as they may be — can help people escape reality for a while. Visiting fictional worlds with fictional characters draws people in, allowing them to forget their own worries, if only for a brief while.
However, spoilers seek to ruin this attachment a person can have with make-believe worlds. They ruin the joy of watching a story unravel, the palpable excitement that comes with not knowing what comes next. Some say that spoilers actually enhance, or that they don’t really affect the viewing experience. Some also say that knowing what’s ahead helps one to analyse the story better as a whole. But, is it healthy to start off with a critical analysis even before your first viewing? The first viewing is when one should absorb the story as the creator intended it to be. Repeat viewings provide ample opportunities to dissect every minute element of a narrative. The element of surprise, which is always unique to the first viewing, must be respected. Of course, all forms of art and expression are inherently subjective and everyone feels differently about them. But, for all the books, movies and television series around us, each of which means something to someone, the least we can do is help people enjoy what they love.
This article first appeared in the print edition on May 27, 2019 under the title ‘Spoiler alert’. The writer, 21, is a law student at Aligarh Muslim University.