Let me clarify. No, I don’t lose my temper when finding out the ending to a decades-old movie I’ve never seen, nor do I purposefully avoid all trailers for an anticipated movie so that I can see it fresh the first time; quite the opposite. I became infamous among our friends at Gettysburg for blithely spoiling all manner of stories as I excitedly shared my own knowledge and passions with others. It was a point of pride that I did not spoil a certain character’s death in The Hobbit for one friend (Francis got that honor, as I furiously gave him ‘cut-it-out’ signals from the driver’s seat of my car). This all stems from my own insatiable curiosity about the worlds I love. You can count on me watching the latest teaser trailer as soon as it comes out or devouring reports of story leaks or rumors; I just need to know!
My mindset in this sets me apart from an ever-growing body of people who resent the sheer amount of information available via the Internet; to them, knowing events of a movie or book before consuming it in toto ruins the experience. As we traverse the age of nostalgia media, with reboots and prequels at every turn, it is an oft-repeated mantra to ask what the point of a story is, as we already know the ending. I can’t disagree more. It matters not one bit to me whether I already know where a character ends up or how a story ends; it’s about the journey, the experience, the ability to see it for myself fully realized.
The more I thought, the more I realized this may be another way in which I consume fiction like an historian (a subject upon which I previously mused here). We as historians by definition do not operate with an open-ended, mysterious horizon; our end point is definite, and intimately felt in our shared present. If an historian were to get bored studying the Civil War because they already knew its outcome, or consider the study of the British Empire pointless because it ultimately dissolved, we would have none of the vibrant analysis of our past that recaptures human heritage and makes sense of our present. It is the journey, the motivation, the process of rise and fall and metamorphosis, that makes the tapestry of history so compelling.
Of course, this is not to say that I’m proudly unreconstructed in my spoiling ways; I now always ask someone if they care about spoilers before I launch into any pop culture discussion and abhor those who intentionally blast plot details to unsuspecting audiences. I’m curious, though, how many of us are out there. How many consume all the information they can, as soon as they can, because they can never get enough knowledge and know that the conclusion is very rarely the end? If you’re among them, know that here you’ll always have a sympathetic ear.