DC and Marvel have complained for years about how difficult it is to continue surprising readers when everyone has access to solicitation information two months before a story comes out. To combat that, they’ve offered a steady increase in the number of redacted solicits and “classified” covers; a solution that’s not just unhelpful to retailers trying to decide how many comic to order, but creates a situation in which retailers have to rely on publishers saying, “We can’t tell you anything about it, but trust us, you’re going to want lots of this one.” If I’m a retailer, that sounds like an untenable situation to be in. But what if it’s a whole lot of noise about something that doesn’t have to be a problem?
Last month, a study revealed that – contrary to conventional wisdom – spoilers can actually increase enjoyment of a story. According to UC San Diego psychology researchers Nicholas Christenfeld and Jonathan Leavitt, “subjects significantly preferred the spoiled versions of ironic-twist stories” and knowing the ending ahead of time “not only didn’t hurt enjoyment of the story but actually improved it.” Click the link for a fuller run-down of how the study was conducted, but the research is relatively unimportant. It just scientifically demonstrates something everyone already knew was true.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve come out of a movie that I enjoyed for its thrilling pace, but realized how many plot holes there were as soon as I started discussing it with my friends. Or the number of comics I’ve read where I was caught up in the “event” only to be disappointed by the end that there was no real story there. In the words of Christenfeld and Leavitt, “plot is overrated.”
Comics fans, as a whole, despise spoilers, from the death of Captain America and the revelation of Angel as Twilight to the death of the Human Torch and the unmasking of Miles Morales as the new (Ultimate) Spider-Man. As publishers like Marvel and DC Comics turn more frequently to the mainstream press to generate publicity for major plot developments, spoilers naturally become much more common; national newspapers don’t usually hide their exclusives from the eyes of sensitive comics fans.
But after the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments subside, it turns out that spoilers may not be a bad thing. Really! A new study by the University of California, San Diego found that, “contrary to popular wisdom,” they seem to actually enhance the enjoyment of stories.
The study, which will be published in the journal Psychological Science, focused on three types of short stories — ironic-twist, mystery and literary — from such authors as John Updike, Roald Dahl and Agatha Christie. Research subjects were presented with each story in three forms: as it originally appeared, with a spoiler paragraph before the story, and with that same paragraph incorporated into the text.