There once was a time, back in the dark old days before the internet, when I didn't have a fucking clue what was going to happen in a comic book until I actually read the bloody thing.
With no comic shops around for hundreds of kilometers, (and when you're a kid with no income and no access to decent own transport, they might as well be on the far side of the moon), just about the only form of information came in advertisements in other comics, Marvel's Bullpen Bulletins and the very, very occasional comic-related publication that I stumbled across.
The lack of knowledge wasn't confined to comics, of course, and it was always a vague mystery as to what was going to come up in movies and television shows. The mass appeal of these mediums meant there was a little more information than in comic's ghetto of popular culture, but there was still a lot of ignorance. For a long, long time, all I knew about ET was that it was something so popular they made shoelaces with pictures of the main character on them.
This level of blissful ignorance lasted right up to the mid-90s. I can still remember reading the Death of Superman and the only clue I had that it wasn't permanent, (outside the obvious knowledge that super-heroes never really die), was in the next issue box at the end of each super-issue.
I almost shat myself when those boxes started saying there was no information about upcoming issues towards the end of Funeral For A Friend. This probably says more about my naivety than my pooping habits.
Things have changed, as they do. The internet has been the prime mover behind this, but access to other parts of information, from the explosion in different television options to an increased access to magazines have all helped. Now it actually takes a conscious effort to avoid details that can be a vital part of a movie experience.
Fortunately, people have, by and large, adjusted and the idea of spoiling details is seen as a major social faux pas. This doesn't prevent some from delighting in the misery of others, but, by and large, folk are pretty good about this sort of thing. (Although sometimes the desire to avoid revelations can be bad enough, with any review that bangs on about a magnificent plot twist almost as bad as something that spells it out, with anticipation leading to an assumption of the revelation before it is due.)
But still, the level of those who shriek of spoilers when the slightest hint of data is revealed sometimes baffles me. Even if I know how a movie is going to end, it doesn't make it any less worthwhile. Those who say there is no need to see something because they know the final outcome seem to be missing the entire point of a story. That it is not just a series of vague events leading up to an eventual conclusion, but an actual tale with something to say beyond the plot mechanics.
For example, after watching the first two seasons of The Wire on DVD, I couldn't help myself and looked up details on the internet. Thanks to the genius of local programmers and DVD importers, the later seasons played at the most ungodly hour possible, with no sign of any release of any box sets of the last three seasons at all. Outside of illegal downloads and the necessity of personal importation, there was little chance of seeing how things turned out, so resorting to Wikipedia to find out the fates of essential characters felt like a viable option.
(It didn't really work like that, and I ended up seeing all five seasons in less than a year...)
And yet, even though I knew who died a few episodes from the end, and who is forced into retirement, it didn't make me any less eager to see those episodes. The big plot manoeuvres may have been revealed, but that's not what the programme was about. The cyclical nature of things, with a new generation coming in and making the same old mistakes as the last, is a fine wall to hang a plot on, but personally, I watched the programme for the details.
It's the little things, the bits that tie together and bind and create the overall themes that hit the mark. It's the characters who live their lives, one piece at a time. It's not to see if McNulty is going to keep his badge, the character is so much more than that.
There are, of course, still programmes where the big plot twists are a significant part of the reader's enjoyment, and avoiding any spoilers is only possible if the viewer is only able to see the latest episode as soon as possible. I might feel a little guilty torrenting American television shows, but as episodes of Battlestar Galactica which screened recently in the States are still months away from appearing on local screens, avoiding the answers that lie behind the series will be impossible without completely cutting off from the wider pop culture web, or by downloading episodes hours after they screen on the Sci-Fi channel. Not a hard choice.
(Although it could be argued that spoilage could have helped the viewing experience, even with something as shock-heavy as Galactica. Watching the final episodes and spending so much effort waiting for the final shocking twist, the magnitude of the achievement was only noticed on a second viewing. The big questions aren't always the most important ones.)
With comics, it's a little bit easier, with issues coming out days after their US release. It's easy enough to avoid details, there is little media coverage to avoid, and comic book readers are, by and large, surprisingly good about spoilers. With many mainstream comics relying pretty on shock deaths and last page guest appearances to keep the ongoing plot machine working, a lot of comic people are very good at keeping quiet on the big events, for a few days at least.
Sometimes they can go a bit far in the other direction, and leap down the throats of anybody who lets slip with the most minor of details, adamant that knowing what happens on page three has destroyed their entire enjoyment of the comic.
This is something that has always confused me. A good plot is a vital part of any tale, but it's not the whole thing. In his Writing For Comics essay, published a couple of years back in a nifty new form by Avatar, Alan Moore vaguely defines plot as what happens in a story, but not the story itself.
Living in the spoileriffic age, details and bit and pieces of a tale are always going to leak through, and rather than stress about what is lost, we should all enjoy the things around the plot. Because all that mood, characterisation and style is so much more important than the latest guest star.