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I live in the USA, where people react poorly if you spoil a move or a book for them. However, the question What is the benefit in the Prologue "spoiling" the play in Romeo + Juliet? raises the interesting point that beliefs about spoilers vary according to location, time period, and culture.

Is it possible to trace our current aversion to spoilers to a specific time period? Have there been any works on the history of thought about spoilers?

I'm not quite sure how to ask this question successfully; please leave comments or edit if this question is too broad.

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    en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suspense says "According to the Greek philosopher Aristotle in his book Poetics, suspense is an important building block of literature[citation needed]." Presumably complaints about spoilers are as old as the use of suspense in literature. – muru May 15 '17 at 2:45
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    For tracing our current aversion, ngrams might be useful, listing this book from 1995 as one of the oldest to explain the phrase "spoiler alert". – muru May 15 '17 at 2:45
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    This is a message at the end of the movie "Les Diaboliques" (1955): i.imgur.com/dg2T4HW.jpg It asks not to reveal the ending to friends. – DrTyrsa May 15 '17 at 14:34
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    @DrTyrsa Slightly older than that is The Mousetrap (1952). After each one of its 25,000+ performances so far, the audience is asked not to reveal the ending to anyone who hasn't seen the play themselves. – Rand al'Thor May 21 '17 at 16:11
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    You have two questions embedded here. This can make it difficult to concisely answer, and tends to lead toward "Community Wiki" style answers. You might want to consider clarifying which one is your original question - and, if the other stands on its own, open a new question on it. – TML Jun 27 '17 at 4:45
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Although comments above point to earlier examples (e.g., Les Diaboliques and The Mousetrap), I would argue that the "spoiler" first became a modern phenomenon, at least in American popular culture, with the Alfred Hitchcock's famous advertisements surrounding his 1960 film Psycho. The unexpected murder of Janet Leigh's character, and of course the final reveal of the murderer's alternate personality, were protected with a famous anti-spoiler marketing strategy.

You can see this anti-spoiler marketing in this short doc: https://youtu.be/DjRzj_Ufiew

These strategies included:

  1. Not allowing latecomers into the theater
  2. A tag line in theaters that read: "If you can’t keep a secret, please stay away from people after you see Psycho."
  3. Print advertising that encouraged viewers from not revealing the ending.
  4. Hitchcock personally buying all remaining copies of Robert Bloch's novel Psycho.

If you're looking for any specific works on the history of spoiler-aversion, I'd recommend C. Namwali Serpell's Seven Modes of Uncertainty, specifically the second chapter, "Enfolding." The chapter offers a nice review of the thought around spoiler aversion, and the second footnote there has this:

Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) did a lot to get the idea of spoilers off the ground. His stringent restrictions on the revelation of the film's secret twists were advertised widely, and for the first time in film history, audiences weren't allowed to come into the theater after the movie began. "It is required that you see Psycho from the very beginning," read posters depicting a comically stern Hitchcock tapping his watch. Hitchcock was probably inspired to develop these techniques because of Henri-Georges Clouzot's Les Diaboliques (1955), the end of which included an "anti-spoiler" message. A decade later, Doug Kenney wrote a piece for National Lampoon called "Spoilers," which revealed the plots of famous films. (330-331)

Namwali Serpell's chapter goes on to focus on the spoiler in literature, specifically Ian McEwan's 2001 novel, Atonement, as it relates to the literary mode of uncertainty he terms enfolding.

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  • Thanks for your answer. Since this site is about literature, I wonder if you could add whether the book chapter you cite has anything to say about spoilers and literature? – Tsundoku Jun 16 at 15:49
  • Psycho may be pre-dated by Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap, which started being performed in theatres in 1952 and has a tradition of, at the end of the play, always asking audiences not to reveal the ending/solution to others. – Rand al'Thor Jun 16 at 17:49

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