I just had a short conversation with my 15 year-old daughter about a particular book she’s reading. I will refrain from saying what that book is, because I have to discuss a minor event in it–or should I say the series in which it exists.
She says “this first book is more of an introduction,and I can’t wait to go to the next one.” Then she says “even though my favorite character dies in the fourth book.”
I said “who told you that?”
I really didn’t need to ask. The endless hemorrhage that is social media will take anything that has any popular visibility,and disambiguate it right before your eyes, beginning, middle, denouement . . . whatever.
I feel for those guys that go to church and simultaneously Tivo the Superbowl. Trying to get out of the sanctuary without seeing a smartphone update, receiving a handshake from someone who saw a smartphone update, seeing any local football sycophants posting signs on the roadside or whatever, has to be the backyard-barbecue equivalent of negotiating IED’s in Afghanistan. You have to seriously become a single-trajectory luddite if you’re going to watch that game in real time. Oh, and shut off all the phones. Even the body language of a fellow sports-fanatic who didn’t go to church and might be inclined to wave at you could devastate the mystery you’ve desperately tried to protect.
My daughter tries to convince me that her ever-spoiling associates “don’t ruin anything” for her–that her surprise synapses are not in any way dulled by these revelations.
I beg to differ. The huge revelations are only given their strength by the contrasts leading up to them. As a musician, some of my favorite musical solos were given their entire breath of life by the moments of the song leading up to that point; the lyrics, the urgency, the dynamics . . . the buildup. Isolate the solo, cadenza . . . whatever you want to call it and play if for someone with no reference point. See if it hits home in the same way an organic presentation would.
This is not exactly the same as revealing a literary death prematurely–but, in some ways it is. Because once you know that transition is coming, there will be no appreciation for even the greatest writing, and clever machinations that shrouded that revelation. In reality, a writer’s skill can be greatly diminished in the eyes of a reader when their friends start carping about “Dumbledore.”
And since I’m going to invoke Harry Potter in one of the more notorious examples, I’m also going to say that cheap shot revelatory grenades not only reduce a writer’s skill cred, it also reduces their bank accounts. JK Rowling or SOMEONE spent the equivalent of the Gross National Product of Guam to protect the last books from leaks–precisely because spoilers would cause a downturn in sales, and an understandably demoralizing turn for the reader and fans, who deserved to live through it–not be unwittingly freebased to the end of it.
And when this happens, and news reports of depression and even suicidal turns can invoke thoughtless reactions about fandom mentalities,and such. But there IS something to it. Because the investment in the larger story is what gives smaller moments their life. Just as a major plot twist can be enjoyed for its full impact, having it artificially revealed or destroyed can have a depressing one as well.
And yes, there is a larger issue here.
There is something to the idea of mystery anyway. The very reason I ever read the Sherlock Holmes novels, or for that matter any other mysteries was because there were punctuated moments of revealtion–we all live for the piecemeal dissemination of light. The idea that there is continually something “right around the corner” gives purchase to the mundane.
My 15-year-old, who says she is unaffected by the literary spoiler, though, is also in a novel herself, known as life’s “Book” as it were. And she doesn’t need any spoilers, either. I work in a facility full of young people for whom someone has maliciously introduced them to the concept of life all at once. When it was meant to be learned in serial form. Bit by bit. Line by line.
And don’t think the scions of pop culture care about “mystery.” Not from an industrial, and philosophical malignancy that is only concerned with disrobing everything: life, sexuality, people . . . faith. The idea of hiding nothing, and bringing all punctuated mystery to the immediate here and now is all that matters.
Spoilers. Straight up spoilers.
And some of those spoilers will kill the most important character of all. Them.