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Twitter has 140 million active users. That's a lot. But it doesn't mean there aren't downsides to Twitter. Just ask Eddie Murphy. His death has been a trending topic at least twice. Another downside, people who spoil TV shows by tweeting their plot twists.
Spoilers might be the bane of Twitter, but NPR's Neda Ulaby has this shocking surprise ending. Spoilers may not be such a bad thing, after all.
NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Can you imagine if Twitter had been around in 1980 when a nation collectively wondered who shot J.R.?
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DALLAS")
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: It was you, Kristin, who shot J.R.
ULABY: Every "Dallas" fan on the east coast would have immediately ruined the reveal for everyone from Alabama to Alaska by Facebooking or tweeting. Spoilers have become enough of a preoccupation for a university to study them.
Psychology professor Nicholas Christenfeld of the University of California, San Diego. He examined what effect spoilers have on people's enjoyment of stories.
NICHOLAS CHRISTENFELD: So we chose various quite famous short stories, had people come in and, in one condition, we spoiled them beforehand without using the word spoiler.
ULABY: So, for example, subjects who had not already read the classic short story by Shirley Jackson would get handed "The Lottery." Some were told about its morbid conclusion in advance.
CHRISTENFELD: In this lottery, people draw to see who will stoned to death at the end.
ULABY: Appropriately, the spoiler study had a surprise twist, Christenfeld learned.
CHRISTENFELD: Spoilers are, in fact, enhancers.
ULABY: It turns out, when people knew what was going to happen, reading the story was more enjoyable. That makes sense to Time magazine television critic, James Poniewozik.
JAMES PONIEWOZIK: It's much more terrifying to know that something horrible is about to happen than not to know that it's about to happen.
ULABY: That's Alfred Hitchcock's theory of suspense, Poniewozik says. It's not like the movie, "Psycho," gets ruined when you know in advance about the shower.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "PSYCHO")
(SOUNDBITE OF WOMAN SCREAMING)
ULABY: Poniewozik says people are violently against spoilers now, partly because we started to use Facebook and Twitter right when the way we watch TV began to change. Now, people wait to watch shows on their DVRs or Hulu, but they still get angry when other people talk about those shows online.
Then you've got TV writers trying to ratchet up ratings in a competitive, overcrowded landscape.
PONIEWOZIK: There is a kind of overreliance on shocking twists and big reveals.
ULABY: For that, he says, is "Lost."
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SERIES, "LOST")
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I want you to know, Jack, you died for nothing.
ULABY: "Lost" found a subgenre of imitators that tried to hook viewers with plot twists, not great writing or characters. That's why people still read "Anna Karenina," even if they know the thing about the train.
But comparing literature and TV does not work for writer Dan Kois. His extensively investigated spoilers in New York magazine and Slate.
DAN KOIS: I feel like a novel cannot offer the same kind of visceral shock and pleasure that a great plot twist in a visual medium usually can.
ULABY: But there can be another kind of pleasure in a spoiler, says director Kevin Smith. His movie review show on Hulu is called "Spoilers."
KEVIN SMITH: I'm not one of those cats that's like, I need to be precious going in. To be honest with you, I'd want to know more. I'm voracious. I am the internet in as much as I'm like, feed me.
ULABY: Smith says a little advance knowledge can be useful.
SMITH: Me and the wife would always watch "Battlestar Galactica" and I read on Twitter in advance and, again, "Spoilers," if you still haven't watched "Battlestar Galactica," what Starbuck was.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "BATTLESTAR GALACTICA")
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I told you there were angels working amongst you. When will you believe me?
SMITH: And, you know, she - oh, my God. And I took advantage of that time because, seconds before it happened, I was like, I bet you she's an angel and then, all of a sudden, they say it. And she goes, like, you're so smart. But, you know, really, it had been spoiled for me.
ULABY: When Kevin Smith does not want to be spoiled, he has a simple solution. Just stay of Twitter. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.
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