Enjoying The Journey Vs. Online Spoilers

In a recent issue of Wired, film and TV producer J.J. Abrams wrote an editorial on how the proliferation of online spoilers has affected our ability to enjoy media. It got me thinking of an old concept, one that is ever more applicable now that we all engage in such hectic, cluttered lives: that one must learn to enjoy the journey, not just the arrival at a destination.


Case #1: Recently Fox was pummeled online by a "stolen, incomplete and early" leaked version of the upcoming "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" film. Those of us who are fans of the character already know the full origin story, so does the release of an early version of the film mean we won't still see the film in theatres or buy it on Blu-ray? I doubt it; the fans will still stand in line and support their favorite Marvel character, especially given that the film was downloaded a paltry 100,000 times or so while it was still online. And for the record, casual fans weren't hurt by this trend, because they don't spend much time on the Pirate Bay and related locations.



Case #2: the upcoming Outside Lands Festival in San Francisco, which is scheduled for Aug. 28-30 and features none other than my boys, Pearl Jam, headlining with the likes of The Dave Matthews Band and The Beastie Boys. The festival line-up was announced on April 13, but rumors had abounded online for a few weeks, and rabid fans had their ideas about who would be headlining, along with what the band would be playing, since the song list for their new album is already appearing online, even though it's not yet complete. Does that mean we won't still be standing at the ready when the band jumps on stage and debuts their new material? I highly doubt it -- I think it will actually add to the excitement. It sounds like good marketing to me!

Case #3: In just a few clicks, any fan of "Lost" can find 100 Web sites providing detailed, extremely well-informed theories for what the outcome of the show will be. These efforts are littered with true spoilers, but does that stop viewers from watching and enjoying the path that winds through the rest of the season? Absolutely not. Show fans enjoy the gradual understanding of how these intricate stories weave together, regardless of what the end will be. The art is in the storytelling ability, not just in the story itself.

In an information-hungry world where a high school student need not memorize any information, but is instead taught how to find the answer in less than two clicks of a mouse, I find myself starting to enjoy the journey rather than just awaiting the outcome. It is almost impossible to keep a secret these days, so one has to learn to enjoy the path to the answer, not just the information itself.

If anything, I think that simple concept is actually comforting -- and rather Zen in its simplicity.

I understand that for some people, spoilers are a bummer, but I think it's a matter of perspective. When the final Harry Potter book was released, the press did a pretty good job of not revealing the outcome, but even if you did find out the end in advance, did that stop you from reading the book? Probably not. It was so well-written that you still picked the book up and enjoyed the 700+ pages of intricate storytelling. It's easier to understand when referring to a book, which seems to carry with it a more "intellectual" capital than the art of movie-making or comic books.

Still, In my world, all media is to be enjoyed equally and whether it's a film, a TV show, a book, an album or any other format of media, you need to enjoy the process, not just the outcome. To that end, we are starting to see more examples of musicians inviting their fans into the process of creating their art.

I understand the extent to which many people will go to stay out of the way of spoilers, but don't let their inevitable discovery ruin your media experience. Look at the bigger picture and not just the final moments, and try to enjoy the full journey. If you can apply that simple concept to your media experience, then maybe you can apply it to the rest of your day as well!

4 comments about "Enjoying The Journey Vs. Online Spoilers".
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  1. Monica Bower from TERiX Computer Service, May 6, 2009 at 10:30 a.m.

    The issue the media makers have with leaks and spoilers isn't so much that people will know the ending in advance, but that they decide in advance that the ending isn't worth the journey based on the leak.

    The fact that people buy (rather than merely rent) movies, albums, etc for the purpose of enjoying them over and over is proof enough that 'surprise' isn't all that quality media have going for them; I know everything that happens in Iron Man but I still watch it on Blu Ray every once in a while. Where damage is done is where surprise is the ONLY thing media has going for it.

  2. Ned Canty from New York Television Festival, May 6, 2009 at 10:32 a.m.


    A well argued defense of enjoying the process, and an interesting counterpoint to Mr. Abrams equally well argued case in Wired.

    My only caveat would be that the degree to which spoilers ruin an experience depends on the work of art, and the type of story. Had I known what happened at the end of last week's episode of Lost (or Memento or Fight Club, etc), I would certainly have enjoyed it less. Perhaps I would have enjoyed it to a large extent (in fact I am certain I would have) but not as much as had I avoided the spoiler. That also doesn't mean on a second viewing I won't enjoy it equally well, for different reasons. But in all those cases above the storyteller crafted the story in a way that information is given out in carefully measured ways. Knowing the ending warps the experience of hearing the story. I do not say it destroys it, or makes people not watch, etc. But if we consider these creators to be artists, as I do, I believe we should do our best to respect the way in which they want their story to be told.

    There are hundreds of films of TV shows where I pretty much know what the ending will be, and enjoy simply watching a skillful crafting of the genre conventions (romantic comedies come to mind). For those works, the process is obviously the point. Not so with others.

    I am not someone who gets hysterical when I hear spoilers, but I certainly do my best to avoid them--partly to protect my own enjoyment, and partly to honor the artist's intention. In an ideal world we can enjoy both process and product--surely the pinnacle of great TV, film, theatre, opera or what have you.

  3. Tessa Wegert from Enlighten, May 6, 2009 at 10:48 a.m.

    Hi Cory, I agree with you completely but would add that in some cases, spoilers still do exactly that they're described to do: spoil the experience. Take Ned's point about "Lost" and the pleasure of the surprise ending. TV Guide, which pushes story headlines to its Facebook Page fans, posted "Faraday Dies on Lost" two days after last week's episode ran. Those who used a dvr to record it and hadn't watched it yet were surely none too pleased to have their journey hijacked.

    As consumers, we benefit from having instant access to all of the information we could ever need or want online. But as marketers, it's our duty to ensure that we don't rob users of the ability to either voluntarily seek it out, or retain the element of mystery.

  4. B May from Lucid Media, May 6, 2009 at 10:55 a.m.

    No offense, but while I think this is a spreading and growing philosophy, perhaps best articulated by Gerd Leonhard, et al, I really think it fails to answer any of the underlying questions.

    I come from the music business - a former industry that ought to serve as the ultimate model of a struggling medium in the age of "spoilers." In many ways those roots gave me an understanding that, to this day, I'm able to apply to film, book publishing, TV, news, and all other media and entertainment formats. I still read articles and opinion about how the music industry ought to have embraced technology as opposed to fighting it. Those opinions are almost always quite correct, and WAY wrong.

    There's no way to say it all in a comment, but in an attempt to abbreviate I would suggest that while the theme (let's all be media existentialists and get into the process not the product) might be unavoidable . . . the result (there is no economic ecosystem to existentialism, no value prop when supply is ubiquitous and demand is compromised by overwhelming UGC content) is untenable.

    When everyone is a recording artist, there is no music business. When everyone is a filmmaker, or a film distributor (legal or not) there is no film business. It's not about crime and FBI raids - it's just a matter of supply and demand. I can dig the idealism, but we do not yet, and may never, have an economic model that can identify value in an industry that is all "journey" and no "destination."

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