Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Self-schadenfreude or The Love of Spoiling Nice Things

Ugh. You guys.

I'm thinking a lot today about spoiling yourself.

No, this isn't some pre-Valentine's Day advice column all about lavender bubbles and day spa facials, I mean actually spoiling things for yourself. I am a habitual self-spoiler, and I hate it.

I love short stories. I think they're a wonderful challenge for a writer - create these little worlds and then close them off just as they've barely begun. Done right, they have great impact. Done poorly, at least they're over soon. These little "peanut stories" - pieces of prose that you can take in and digest rapidly, without stopping, are perfect for a short attention span like my own. When I was 13 my middle-school class did a unit (hee. did a unit.) on short stories for English class. There were some really choice pieces in there that remain favourites to this day - de Maupassant's The Necklace, Connell's The Most Dangerous Game and, one of the best, Saki's The Interlopers. Our teacher read the story to us aloud, with the photocopied printout of it face-down on our desks. "Do not look at the last line," he warned, "I'll tell you when you can read it."

This was as close to institutionalized torture as I've ever gotten. I was a wreck. Sweating, fidgeting - all I had to do was look down at that page, easily transpose the letters of that last line and then - bam! Suffering ended, secret knowledge acquired. I remember furtively trying to focus on his words, placing both my arms over the paper in an attempt to quell my curiousity; but it was no use. Halfway through the story I relented and snuck a peek. Of course, the meaning of the line made no sense to me, but as the story reached its climax I figured out the ending. And my heart dropped as my teacher told all the other well-behaved rules-following kids in the class to turn over their papers, envying the gasps of surprise and groans of recognition that the ending elicited. I had no one to blame but myself. Even now, if I'm reading a book and I can tell the author is gearing up for a big reveal I have to physically put my hand over the page and read the story line by line or else my eye automatically wanders to the end of the sentence, letting me know the big secret before my eyes have taken in all the leading details. I hate it. And yet, the spoiling, she continues.

Technology has only made this worse. The Boy is kind of obsessive when it comes to watching shows on DVD. He loathes commercials so he buys series on DVD. Which is fine and fun - it allows us to plow through half a season of Community or Modern Family or, in the case of most British programs, the entire series, in an afternoon. The only issue is, by the time a show's come out on DVD, it's already been discussed ad infinitum on television, in magazines, online, etc. I can ignore most media but online spoilers are a different matter.

Take Mad Men for example. I bought the first two seasons on a whim from Amazon's Black Friday sale. We liked them a lot so we bought the next two. Then, because Season 5 cost a mint, we decided to wait to buy it. Huge mistake. Every Google search for an actor's name or Jon Hamm's package (which, okay, I search for more than I should), offered up a new spoiler, often just in the Google bar alone (damn you, predictive search!). We just recently relented, buying the 5th season but I already know a few of the biggest plot discoveries. And I hate myself for it. But if you think "just don't look" is an option for me, well you probably didn't even read this whole entry, did you? You just skipped ahead.

We're kindred spirits you and I.

So now we're watching Downton Abbey and we're completely obsessed with it. We bought the 3rd season as soon it was released here. If you're a fan of the show then you know that something big happened this week. Or, it must have, because people cannot shut their gobs about it. I can't even type a character's name into Google without having half their storyline revealed. I'm going crazy with the effort to remain pristine here. As a result, I'm barrelling through this season faster than ever, trying to out-run the spoilers and not allowing myself the time to savour the series like a fine port.

I guesss I have a love-hate relationship with spoilers. I love the feeling of being shocked whether by a reality tv show twist or a murder mystery. But knowing what's going to happen means I have time to examine the storyline for foreshadowing and motive and I don't feel too abandoned and shocked when a character suddenly dies or disappears (plus I can lord my secret knowledge over The Boy which is faboo). And, after all, a big part of me is still made up of that fidgety 8th grader, sneaking a peek at that upside-down sheet, desperate to know how it all turns out.

But seriously, no one tell me about Downton. I got me a pizza date with the dowager countess tonight.



  1. I am a kindred spirit. I too have a hard time not looking at the end of a book sometimes. But, I did read your whole piece without skipping to the end. Maybe I am getting better. :)

    1. So happy (relieved?) to see I'm not alone here! Honoured that you made it all the way to the end of my post - I know how hard that can be :)