Spoiling for a spoiler? WSU prof has written the definitive book on the subject

Spoiling for a spoiler? WSU prof has written the definitive book on the subject

If some jerk ruined the surprise about Luke Skywalker’s father in “The Empire Strikes Back,” or blurted out Dumbledore’s killer in “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” or revealed the true nature of Bruce Willis’ character in “The Sixth Sense” — this book is for you.

Weber State University philosophy professor Richard Greene recently published “Spoiler Alert! (It’s a Book About the Philosophy of Spoilers)” (Open Court, $19.95). Released May 21, the book is currently available at Barnes & Noble, Walmart, Target and Amazon, among other online retailers.

Greene says the book is selling relatively well.

“By philosophy-book standards, it’s doing OK,” he explained. “Of course, if I were James Patterson and seeing these numbers, it would be time to quit.”

An expert on the philosophy of pop culture, Greene uses the 243-page tome to examine the philosophy of spoilers from a number of different angles.

Among the book’s chapters are “The Badness of Spoiling,” “Things That Can Never Be Spoiled,” and “When You Should Spoil.”

In an interview with the Standard-Examiner, Greene admitted that the more he thought about spoilers and why they’re such a big deal for people, the more the idea seemed “philosophically interesting” to him.

He’d been talking to his students about spoilers for several years, and it always fascinated him just how upset some students became when they had something spoiled for them.

Greene says he’d tell students, “Raise your hand if you’ve ever been really upset by a spoiler,” and a good percentage of the hands in class would shoot up. He’d then say, “Keep your hand up if you’re upset about the plight of Syrian refugees,” and almost all hands would drop.

“You’d have four or five activists left out of a class of 50, and I thought, ‘Why is this?’” he recalls.

The book includes a fair amount of discussion about the psychology of having things spoiled. And in addition to looking at the relative goodness/badness of spoiling, it also addresses the metaphysics of spoilers — “What things are and what things are not spoilers,” he said.

And to top it off, the book includes three playful appendices — “The Thirty Greatest Spoilers of All Time” (Spoiler alert: “Psycho” tops the list); “Spoiler Horror Stories”; and “The 100 Greatest Philosophical Spoilers.”

Greene has dealt with his own share of spoiler headache/heartache. He says he has a friend who, every time a character died in “The Walking Dead,” immediately posted their photo to Facebook with the words “Rest in peace.”

And years ago, Greene — who grew up in the San Francisco Bay area and describes himself as an avid San Francisco 49ers fan — said he had an important NFL playoff game spoiled for him.

In the 1990s, there was a huge playoff game between the 49ers and the Green Bay Packers, but Greene was in an airport at the time. He’d recorded the game and was going to watch it when he got home, so he didn’t want to know the result.

Greene says he successfully avoided learning about the game, despite the fact it was on “every TV in every bar” at the airport. He finally boarded the plane and figured he was safe. But just to be sure, he plugged a pair of headphones into the armrest at his seat to drown out any potential spoiler information overheard among the other passengers.

“And then the pilot comes on the intercom and says, ‘Hey, folks, you’re not going to believe it, but the Niners just beat the Packers!’” he recalls with a chuckle. “I think I swore and yelled.”

Of course, Greene has also been on the spoiling end of spoilers. He tells the story of the time his wife had started reading the Jane Austen book “Emma,” and he unthinkingly blurted out that the film “Clueless” was based on that book.

What’s more, “I then proceeded to tell her which characters were which,” he said.

Greene says once a story becomes something we’re invested in — like “Star Wars,” or the last episode of “Game of Thrones” — we then become upset when plot surprises are ruined for us.

“It’s a combination of the emotional connection we feel to a work, along with the investment we have in the experience of engaging certain works,” he said.

And it’s not just that we know what happens, because people will often watch a show over and over and still enjoy it even though they know the ending. But Greene says people are committed to these kinds of revelatory experiences.

“They’re deprived of those moments,” he said.

As a society, we’ve become more and more obsessed with spoilers over the years, according to Greene. He says that people spoiled things all the time for one another back in the 1960s, and nobody minded.

“There was this competition to tell the story first to everybody else,” he said.

But at some point, it became “wrong.”

And these days, there’s this sense of entitlement people have about not having things spoiled, Greene believes.

“We’re told it’s wrong, that, ‘Hey, you did something wrong,’” he said. “And once you tell people, ‘If someone spoils something, you have the right to be furious,’ people really take advantage of that.”

As bad as spoilers can be, Greene says he’d like us to remember that there are far worse things in this world.

“I would like people to maybe put it all into perspective a little bit,” he said. “It’s not Aleppo, it’s not detainment centers. We want to honor the fact that having something spoiled can be unpleasant, but it’s not the end of the world.”

And yet, at the same time, Greene has a takeaway lesson for those who might be tempted to spoil a cinematic or literary surprise for someone else.

“I’ve boiled that down to ‘Don’t be a jerk,’” he says.

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