July 21, 2014
Of soccer and spoilers
Let's look at sports from a literary angle.
Perhaps the differences between the preferences of the average American sports fan (who cares about soccer every four years) and the rest of the world (who can't live without it) can be analogized to how people respond to the twists and turns of narrative plot.
More specifically, does knowing what's going to happen matter? Or put another way, do you read spoilers or studiously avoid them?
In Wired magazine, Jonah Lehrer sums up research by Nicholas Christenfeld and Jonathan Leavitt at U.C. San Diego. Testing the enjoyability of a range of short stories with and without spoilers appended, they concluded that "spoilers don't spoil anything."
Almost every single story, regardless of genre, was more pleasurable when prefaced with a spoiler. This suggests that I read fiction the right way, beginning with the end and working backwards. I like the story more because the suspense is contained.
As I argued before, it is the predictability in the strategic play of American sports--the sports fan knows what to expect, when and how--that makes them popular, while the inability to anticipate even a definitive ending in soccer is at the core of its appeal.
Soccer is a story where "anything can happen," including nothing. Soccer as postmodern theater: instead of Waiting for Godot we're "Waiting for a Goal." The genre in genre fiction, by contrast, is its own spoiler, where "the same only different" is a virtue.
Or put another way--to switch metaphors in the middle of the stream--American football (done well) is like a classical symphony while soccer (done well) is like jazz improvisation. And like soccer, I'm afraid I respect jazz a lot more than I actually enjoy it.
And I happily read spoilers.