Faculty

THE POWER OF THE SPOILER ALERT

“I wanted to explore if spoiler attitudes can be changed and show people different sides to them-even the benefits.”

In modern entertainment, spoiler alerts have become just as common, if not more, as the movie trailer push just before opening night. A study is now showing that these declarations made by members of the media and conversational partners before an integral part of a show could be the reason why more are tuning in.

LISA PERKS, associate professor of communication in Merrimack’s Department of Communication and Media, found the existence of spoilers—and people’s reactions to them—compelling enough to perform extensive research with co-author Noelle McElrath-Hart dissecting this phenomenon.

Perks’ research began with the concept of marathon or “binge” watching by “time-shifters”—those who record or wait to watch a program online, on demand or on DVR versus viewing it when it airs. Through this research, she discovered the power of the spoiler—both positive and negative—particularly on the “time-shifter” demographic.

“People have such strong reactions to spoilers and I wanted to get to the bottom of why people react that way,” said Perks. “Not all people dislike spoilers. Some people love spoilers— they expect them in today’s media climate. Some people enjoy the content regardless of knowing what happens ahead of time, and they just enjoy seeing what leads up to it. It has all become a new normal.”

Through her research, Perks has learned that the definition and timing of a spoiler varies from person-to-person. For example, does a spoiler expire? Is it okay to reveal information about a show a week, a month or year after it broadcasts? Perks found that opinions varied dramatically.

Perks also discovered that some people were using spoilers as narrative teasers for shows they haven’t viewed yet, or maybe never would have watched. They see or hear a spoiler and become interested in the story line, and ultimately, they become avid viewers.

Overall, Perks’ academic research analyzes media representations of marginalized groups and audience reception processes. She recently published the book Media Marathoning: Immersions in Morality, and her work regarding spoilers is being published in three separate scholarly publications.

Perks earned a Ph.D. in communication studies from the University of Texas at Austin, an M.A. in communication arts and sciences from Pennsylvania State University, and a B.A. in communication and sociology from Wake Forest University. Her teaching and scholarship revolve around culture, power, and media. Perks comes to Merrimack College from Nazareth College, where she was the communication and media program director and an assistant professor. 

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