Why do people feel it's OK to reveal plot details?

Alfred Hitchcock

Many readers are annoyed that a significant twist in the Bridget Jones saga has been revealed. This is the age of the unavoidable spoiler, writes Finlo Rohrer.

We know the term spoiler has been in use since at least 1971. The OED cites an article that gave away the twist in Hitchcock's Psycho.

As well as Psycho, some people think it's fine to give away that scene in The Crying Game or the denouement in The Sixth Sense or the twist in The Sting. It's not fine.

Today many Breaking Bad fans will be anxiously avoiding the details of Sunday night's finale. Their situation is not unlike the classic episode of the British sitcom Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?, entitled No Hiding Place. The central characters spend an entire day trying to avoid the score in an England football match so they can watch the evening TV highlights programme in a state of blissful ignorance.

It's not just film and television. The blurb on the back of novels has to tread a fine line. A 1990s edition of Iain Banks's Walking On Glass gave away the major plot twist.

The worst spoiler-slewing people usually preface their revelations with: "Don't worry. It's not an important bit." But it usually is.

One group who accept spoilers as a fact of daily life are film studies academics, says Prof Lucy Mazdon of Southampton University. Whereas you'll see "spoiler alert" or "spoiler warning" strewn across news websites, film studies types assume their peers know the plots to every classic movie. "It's one of the things that separates academic work and film criticism," says Mazdon.

As usual, social media is the most devilish source of spoilers. An app was launched for fans of Breaking Bad so they could filter out tweets with plot details.

The spoiler debate can even spill over into real events. When Judith Keppel became the first contestant to win the million on ITV's Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? in 2001, the result of the recorded show was leaked to the press before its broadcast. Result: apoplexy.

So perhaps the real spoiler warning should be this: "Revealing key plot details can make people very angry indeed."

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