Spoilers trailers and advertisements have become an increasing part of culture and the way in which we consume popular culture. Movie trailers, TV advertisements and even the staccato release of tracks prior to an album release all serve the purpose of giving us an increasing idea of what we are in for before we consume a piece of popular entertainment. Very few times in this environment do we ever watch or listen to something without some kind of preconceived understanding about what is about to come up.
While these features are an integral component of any marketing or advertisement campaign, they have a lasting impact on how we experience and consume it later. I’ve found that if I read several reviews for a film I can get a pretty good idea of all the relevant plot points, characters and themes before I even step into the cinema. These little tastes have a role in shaping our preconceptions of the work and later how we react to it.
I think this had an effect on my appreciation of what I claim is my favourite film ever. The first time that I watched The Usual Suspects I had no idea what I was watching. It was back in the days where the Sunday night’s movie was a compulsory inclusion in the programming of every terrestrial channel. I was absent mindedly flicking through the channels when I stumbled onto this particular film. Straight away I was hooked and the film was a monumental experience twisting and turning upon several narrative layers.
In the years that have followed I have watched this film many more times, often introducing it to others and while I still marvel at it that first experience, it’s something which I have never quite been able to replicate. Even when I recommend it to others they seemed unwilling to give it a chance without some prior notion of the plot.
However this does not only occur in recent releases, some bits of culture have become so ingrained in our understanding of culture that we feel like we’ve already seen it. Several times I’ve tried to explain a film I’ve watched by using its appropriation in a Simpsons episode; such as Rear Window (the one where Bart breaks his leg and thinks Ned has killed his wife).
Part of the initial joy and reputation of Psycho was based upon the marketing campaign surrounding it driven by the master of suspense himself, Alfred Hitchock. After Hitchcock bought the rights to make Psycho he went out and bought every remaining copy of the book so the twist ending would not leak. The story was that upon the film’s initial release the cinema doors would be locked to prevent any audience escape.
Whenever I think of the film I hear Bernard Hermann’s sharp stabs of violins and a black and white strobe cut shower, Vivien Leigh shrinking to the floor. This one particular scene has become such an emblematic feature of the film that it is instantly recognizable to anyone regardless of whether they’ve actually seen the film.
What strikes you upon watching Psycho for the first time is that it’s nothing like you imagined, after fifty odd years of slasher films it’s actually pretty tame. The real ‘horror’ lies in the psychological torment of the characters and the incredible tension derived from the filmmaking of Hitchcock. While rewatching the film recently I was actually more tense than I had been on previous viewings. When you see Leigh step into the shower you know what is coming but it is still somewhat a shock when it happens.
I think that we have to be conscience of the effect of spoilers and advertisements in how we consume our entertainment and the possible detrimental result this has on our viewing. Reviews, trailers and advertisements have a definite role to play in popular culture but we have to constantly monitor where the line between spoiler and teaser truly lies.