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OnWords: 'Spoiler Alert' is a New Term


Time-shifting technologies such as DVRs and Netflix have created the need for the term “spoiler alert.” Since not all of us access our favorite movies and TV shows at the same time these days, those who saw them first can reveal things we’d rather see ourselves.

“Spoiler alert,” though, tells us a lot about how contemporary storytelling gets done and what kind of stories we now find compelling.

The “spoiler” is usually tied to an unexpected plot twist or shocking revelation, a deus ex machina (define) for the online era.

Contrast this with where novels and short fiction have been going for the past 100 years. Fine literature has focused more on the internal, psychological lives of characters, on why and how things happen rather than on what happens.

Revealing the entire plot of the James Joyce short story “Araby” will actually tell you very little about the themes it explores. Plotwise, there’s nothing to spoil.

The only way to spoil the story would be to pretty much recount every word.

That current screenwriters rely on plot devices for which spoiler alerts can apply indicates a movement toward sensation and away from rumination, an adaptation to storytelling in an age of constant distraction.