Spoiler Culture, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the End of a Movie

I’m going to reveal a massive spoiler to everyone. Be prepared, for anyone not wanting to hear about a twist ending of book, you may want to look away now. This is a massive spoiler for a book that was intended to keep its twist ending until the very last few moments. Be prepared, everyone, and gaze upon this spoiler as I reveal…

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are the same person.

Some of you are re-reading those first few sentences might believe that I have finally lost my tenuous grip on reality. But I’m doing this to make a point. When Robert Louis Stevenson of Treasure Island and the more popular, Muppet Treasure Island fame wrote The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, was writing a tale that explored the duality of humankind, how someone might act in public as opposed to in private, and what it means to be “evil.” This is something that would be explored later in such works as Fight Club and of course, the Incredible Hulk.

The thing is, the novella (it’s classified as a novella, but anyone who tells you they know what a novel vs. a novella is lying. Nobody knows) was originally written as an investigation by Dr. Jekyll’s very good friend, Gabriel John Utterson, who decides to find out why his good buddy keeps disappearing around the time that this rascally Mr. Hyde appears. Eventually, it leads to the twist: the two are one in the same, and nature of man, blah, blah, blah. All of the themes we’ve seen repeated in the many, many, many versions of this book, I’m sure eventually cumulating in the Muppets Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which will feature I’m hoping Rolf trying to determine why we never see Kermit and Fozzie at the same time.

Lately, spoiler culture has gotten out of hand. We’ve changed our definition of “spoiler” to be “anything that tells you anything about the film/television show/book” rather than revealing some twist ending. I keep going back to a review of the Loneliest Planet, half of which was tying itself into knots about how to discuss the plot of the film when a twist happens – in the first ten minutes! Which some of you might know not as “a twist” or “a spoiler” but “the plot of the movie itself.” We’ve gotten so terrified that we might find out something about some form of entertainment that we tie ourselves into knots trying to avoid it, even if it’s not something we should avoid.

Some of this has to do with the decentralization of how we now consume entertainment. There was a time, back before DVRs and streaming, when if you missed a television show you were relegated to hearing about it from your friends or waiting for reruns in the summer. And there was no way the nation’s excitement over what the Urkle-Bot was going to be contained long enough for you to catch up with Family Matters in August. Movies used to run longer, as there was less competition in the theaters. There even used to be more time waiting for things to be available on home video – if it was at all. Good luck waiting on Titanic, which came on TWO cassette tapes. Simply put, though, we’re not watching things at the same time anymore. A cultural event of watching something might mean finally catching it on a streaming service like Netflix or any of the number of streaming services that are popping up that I can’t keep track of anymore. I just know when they pull King of the Hill off another platform, I’m not sure what I’m going to do.

There’s also the fact that the internet has created a community in which we’re now actively trying to find more clues from shows. Just look at the reaction to the latest Star Wars trailer. Any shadow might be a hidden actor waiting to return, a blue glow from off screen could be a force ghost Luke or a computer monitor or an Ewok with the ability to shoot lighting from its paws, and C3PO’s eyes are red because he’s finally had it with R2 and we’re getting a murder-rampage protocol droid. Probably. No one really knows, so some of those might be spoilers. Some could just be jokes. Who knows? But the way we look at them has caused a community of people who are so obsessed with the idea of trying to find the answer, it’s almost a mystic quest to be proven right. Which at times is at the detriment of the entertainment itself. No movie, book, or television show is going to live up to the hype of a story you create in your head. The X-Men showing up to give Thanos a new Infinity Stone hole sounds super exciting, but there is almost no chance that they will show up in Endgame. But if you followed the movie-preanalysis industrial complex, that’s what you might have expected.

What I think a lot of people are forgetting, though, is that stories need to be more than just the sum of their twist endings, or endings in general. Let’s go back to Jekyll and Hyde, a story I’m not really worried about spoiling because like the lyrics to All Star, this is just something you emerge from the womb knowing. What’s changed by knowing the ending, should you read the original text instead of any of the adaptations: you lose the shock of finding out the two were one in the same. But what you don’t lose out is on the nuance of the characters, the fact that his good friend is trying to find out what happened to him, and the commentary on the nature of humanity.

Good stories should be able to stand on their own, even after you find out that Darth Vader is Luke’s father, or Batman is severely billionaire Bruce Wayne, or that Captain America: Civil War can’t make a good movie that competes with the complexity of the multi-comic storyline. The Loneliest Planet’s big twist is that a couple goes on a hike, and the boyfriend acts like a coward when a gun is pulled on him. That’s not a spoiler, that happens a few minutes into the movie, and the movie itself deals with the fallout of this. Stories are meant to be journeys, not something that’s merely there to bring you to a destination. The story itself should be something that we want to follow, and getting fooled into a really good twist ending is fun, but it shouldn’t be the only reason you’re watching.

Spoiler Culture, as it’s called, has gotten really weird over the past few years. The thing is, I think we really need to think about what a spoiler is really, and how it really affects what we see. If something is ruined beyond repair because suddenly you know the cop turns out to be an alien, then the story wasn’t that good to begin with.

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