I like being spoiled rotten

Martha Gill's Irrational Animals column.

If you haven’t yet seen Titanic, I won’t spoil the ending for you. Just try not to invest emotionally in the boat, or the blond guy. At least one of them will go on to make The Man in the Iron Mask.

Some people become quite touchy about coming across “spoilers” before watching a film or when immersed in a TV series. Personally, I quite like to know what I’m letting myself in for. I also prefer to jump around in books – skipping ahead a few chapters, or reading the end first, just so I know I’m heading towards a good bit. It helps me get through descriptions of military techniques, or sunsets, or the part where Jack teaches Rose to “spit like a man”.

This has been known to annoy people, but a recent study is very much on my side. It finds that I’m simply getting the best out of the story: too much narrative suspense can turn us off, rather than hooking us in. In fact, when following a plot, we don’t like surprises any more than the passengers on the Titanic did. 

The study conducted by Nicolas Christenfeld and Jonathan Leavitt took 30 undergraduates and gave them a mix of short stories to read. There were three kinds: mysteries, literary stories, and stories with an ironic twist. Everyone got one unaltered story, another with a spoiler in the preface, and a third with the spoiler woven into the narrative. When they measured the subjects’ levels of enjoyment, the researchers found something odd.  The spoiled stories were far more pleasurable than the unspoiled.

Why was this? The researchers thought it meant that plots are just excuses for showing off great writing. The enjoyable bit is the way the story is told, the plot itself an irritating distraction. Best to get all that wearying intrigue out of the way right at the start.

They thought this could also apply to film. Story telling is always a mix of tension and resolution, but knowing the iceberg definitely “does a Trenton Oldfield” in the end frees us up to appreciate the more subtle tensions – those between characters, and those between shots. It also gives us the pleasure of anticipation. We really don’t like having to worry about whether the boy gets the girl, or whether the villain dies, or whether the gob that Kate Winslet spits off the balcony and onto the snooty lady’s hat will be adequately apologised for later (no).

Take note, film makers. You may have enjoyed making Inception (another great Leonardo film), but that’s absolutely no reason to make the rest of us suffer. Go home, think about what you have done, then remake Pride and Prejudice, again. It’s what we all want.

Spoiler alert: he doesn't make it. Photograph: Getty Images

Martha Gill writes the weekly Irrational Animals column. You can follow her on Twitter here: @Martha_Gill.

This article first appeared in the 30 April 2012 issue of the New Statesman, The puppet master

Steve Garry
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The footie is back. Three weeks in and what have we learned so far?

Barcleys, boots and big names... the Prem is back.

Another season, another reason for making whoopee cushions and giving them to Spurs fans to cheer them up during the long winter afternoons ahead. What have we learned so far?

Big names are vital. Just ask the manager of the Man United shop. The arrival of Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger has done wonders for the sale of repro tops and they’ve run out of letters. Benedict Cumberbatch, please join Carlisle United. They’re desperate for some extra income.

Beards are still in. The whole Prem is bristling with them, the skinniest, weediest player convinced he’s Andrea Pirlo. Even my young friend and neighbour Ed Miliband has grown a beard, according to his holiday snaps. Sign him.

Boots Not always had my best specs on, but here and abroad I detect a new form of bootee creeping in – slightly higher on the ankle, not heavy-plated as in the old days but very light, probably made from the bums of newborn babies.

Barclays Still driving me mad. Now it’s screaming from the perimeter boards that it’s “Championing the true Spirit of the Game”. What the hell does that mean? Thank God this is its last season as proud sponsor of the Prem.

Pitches Some groundsmen have clearly been on the weeds. How else can you explain the Stoke pitch suddenly having concentric circles, while Southampton and Portsmouth have acquired tartan stripes? Go easy on the mowers, chaps. Footballers find it hard enough to pass in straight lines.

Strips Have you seen the Everton third kit top? Like a cheap market-stall T-shirt, but the colour, my dears, the colour is gorgeous – it’s Thames green. Yes, the very same we painted our front door back in the Seventies. The whole street copied, then le toot middle classes everywhere.

Scott Spedding Which international team do you think he plays for? I switched on the telly to find it was rugby, heard his name and thought, goodo, must be Scotland, come on, Scotland. Turned out to be the England-France game. Hmm, must be a member of that famous Cumbrian family, the Speddings from Mirehouse, where Tennyson imagined King Arthur’s Excalibur coming out the lake. Blow me, Scott Spedding turns out to be a Frenchman. Though he only acquired French citizenship last year, having been born and bred in South Africa. What’s in a name, eh?

Footballers are just so last season. Wayne Rooney and Harry Kane can’t score. The really good ones won’t come here – all we get is the crocks, the elderly, the bench-warmers, yet still we look to them to be our saviour. Oh my God, let’s hope we sign Falcao, he’s a genius, will make all the difference, so prayed all the Man United fans. Hold on: Chelsea fans. I’ve forgotten now where he went. They seek him here, they seek him there, is he alive or on the stairs, who feckin’ cares?

John Stones of Everton – brilliant season so far, now he is a genius, the solution to all of Chelsea’s problems, the heir to John Terry, captain of England for decades. Once he gets out of short trousers and learns to tie his own laces . . .

Managers are the real interest. So refreshing to have three young British managers in the Prem – Alex Neil at Norwich (34), Eddie Howe at Bournemouth (37) and that old hand at Swansea, Garry Monk, (36). Young Master Howe looks like a ball boy. Or a tea boy.

Mourinho is, of course, the main attraction. He has given us the best start to any of his seasons on this planet. Can you ever take your eyes off him? That handsome hooded look, that sarcastic sneer, the imperious hand in the air – and in his hair – all those languages, he’s so clearly brilliant, and yet, like many clever people, often lacking in common sense. How could he come down so heavily on Eva Carneiro, his Chelsea doctor? Just because you’re losing? Yes, José has been the best fun so far – plus Chelsea’s poor start. God, please don’t let him fall out with Abramovich. José, we need you.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 27 August 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Isis and the new barbarism