Get your spoilers out of my face, internet

The last line of defence against spoilers. ‘La la la can’t see you can’t hear you, la la la la la’.

I saw a Star Wars spoiler today. Well, some Star Wars conjecture at the least, but in a way that’s still a spoiler.

I never seek out spoilers. The clue is in the name. They spoil the narrative, and a lot of hard work on behalf of the writers, filmmakers and editors in crafting a story that is fresh and exciting until the end is wasted.

For the same reason, I don’t go in for the whole wildly speculating about a story thing that many fans do. For instance, if you look on YouTube, you can find videos half an hour long dissecting the latest movie trailers to explain all the Easter eggs, references, and the potential significance of certain aspects.

I like to go into the cinema, or watch an episode of a TV show, or open a book, without preconceptions. Sometimes I even find the blurbs on the back of books and Blu-Ray cases to be too much of a primer.

So, naturally, I was very annoyed to have unwittingly stumbled upon what may or may not turn out to be a spoiler for the new, new, Star Wars trilogy.

And how did this happen, I hear you ask. Had I typed ‘really big Star Wars spoilers’ into Google? Was I attending the Day 3 Frustrating Know-It-All panel at StaWaSpoilCon17? Had I snuck into the scriptwriter’s house disguised as a watercooler? No.

My only mistake was to be on a newspaper website. Yep, they put the spoiler right in the article headline. I wasn’t even looking at an article related to film, entertainment or culture, so spoiling a Star Wars film I won’t get to watch for another nine months was very far from being at the fore of my mind. In fact, it was behind ‘disprove Bigfoot’.

The spoiler was right in the article headline. It was just sat there in plain sight, as comfortable and confident as a flasher at a nudist beach.

It was hard enough to avoid spoilers when article headlines only hinted at the information they contained. I’ve long since given up trying to avoid prematurely learning of plot points in Game of Thrones: partly because I realised I’m just not that into it, but largely because it was getting impossible to do so.

Assuming for a minute that you were friends with decent, reasonable people, who knew not to post anything explicit about the latest developments on their social media, you still had to navigate a maze of news and blog headlines that became less vague and coy with every season.

Articles accompanying the first couple of seasons would usually have headlines like: ‘GoT fans are distraught after last night’s episode’.

But now they often run along the lines of: ‘From X to Y – we run down the most brutal deaths on Game of Thrones so far’.

At the beginning I said that the spoiler I saw was actually just conjecture. I didn’t read the article, because I don’t want to know what the evidence was either way. At least this way it remains unproven, but the problem is it put an idea in my head that I didn’t have there before (StarWarsCeption).

Regardless of whether or not it turns out to be true, I’m going to watch Episode VIII (say what you like about the franchise – the Star Wars films have done a fantastic job of keeping our Roman numeral game tight) with preconceived notions.

I’m going to be looking for clues either way, and if they start point towards the thing I’ve read being true, that’s going to change the way I experience the rest of the film.

It seems like we are rapidly losing respect for the sanctity of the stories we consume. People give little thought nowadays to pasting the latest film and television spoilers all over the internet.

For instance, I never went to see the film Passengers in the cinema because somebody posted a major spoiler of it on Facebook. They hadn’t intended to – it was just that they had shared a link to a review of it and explained in a status why they disagreed, mentioning their different take on the plot twist.

What particularly annoyed me about this instance was that this person wasn’t even a friend of mine. I’m not connected to them at all on Facebook but, due to the pushy, parent-of-an-introverted-child urging them to ‘go out and play with others’ mentality of social networks, their status appeared in my feed because one of my friends had commented on it – ironically – calling them out for giving away the spoiler.

I want to be a blank slate when consuming stories. Apparently that’s too much to ask.

Clearly I’m being unreasonable, demanding to go on the internet between the release of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. Who the hell do I think I am, using newspaper websites to do my job; reading around my interests in my free time; finding tips and ideas to better myself?

Giving away spoilers seems to have become something of an art form these days. It’s like reverse clickbait. Unlike the tired practice of making something pedestrian and planned seem intriguing with the use of a few dire clichés (‘You’ll Never Believe What Rewan Did After Writing This’ – spoiler; went to bed), the art of slapping people in the face with information they don’t want to know is quickly gaining followers.

Sometimes people are going to type things without thinking, and that’s sort of okay. But when you’re writing the headline of an article about a spoiler, it’s bloody hard to not be aware that you are giving away a spoiler.

Is it really so difficult to keep the key information hidden? Would you really harm your rate of engagement if people had to actually read the article to find out what the spoiler was?

Surely not: the type of people you are aiming to attract to an article on Star Wars spoilers are people who are mad for Star Wars spoilers.

People who don’t want spoilers aren’t going to read articles about spoilers, because the information contained within is useless to them. Ergo, why put it in the headline at all?

People who want to know will read; people who don’t will not – nothing changes to the downside, and there are fewer pissed off Star Wars fans floating around the internet.

These sites need the clicks to pay for advertising, but they aren’t going to get clicks from the people who aren’t interested in the article content. So why are they giving that information away in the headline as though it’s a present? Of all the times to be philanthropic…

It’s like offering a lifetime supply of free bacon to vegans, kayaking lessons to a desert tribe, or great literature to fans of [insert author you hate here]*.

 

*Yeah, that’s right. We did a joke together. Squad goals.

Do you try to keep spoiler-free? Is it getting more difficult, or am I just imagining it? Let me know in the comments section.

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I sound like a troll. You do too

Feeling good about the world? Are you happy, content and fulfilled? Don’t worry – we’ve got the cure. Simply descend into the comments section on literally anything online, and you’ll soon have all faith in humanity sucked out of you. Comment boards kill 99.9% of wellbeing iotas on first contact. Add comment facilities to your life today, and never worry about self-esteem, confidence or serenity again.

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You know how obnoxious the comments section of an article or YouTube video often gets? People tell each other they know bugger all about the subject matter; they tell the author he or she doesn’t understand what they are talking about; they apply negative labels to one another faster than The Flash breaking in a new pad of Post-It notes.

In other words, people are asses online.

But so am I.

Not on the comments section, and not on social media as such. But I realised the other day, when talking to a group of friends in a messenger app, that I sound like a troll. Not one of those racist, misogynist, homophobic trolls; just one of those ones who sounds nasty and superior all the time. Who is incapable of conveying a thought or making a point without condescending.

And so do all my friends.

It’s a closed group we use to communicate and we’re all very aware of each other’s biases, beliefs and political standings. In fact, we’re all strongly aligned on the same spectrums. And that knowledge, I believe, gives us the confidence to speak more harshly about topics than we would to strangers.

We know, for instance, that we can share studies that prove something we’ve always known and caption the link with something like ‘And today’s award for Saying the Blatantly Obvious goes to this moron…

Thinking back on it now, most people I’ve spoken to for long enough will have expressed an opinion with the same level of sharpness. The kind of opinion that gets thrust out there, covered in barbed wire. Sensitivity is as high up its list of priorities as it would have been for the person who invented the morning star.

And I realised then that the issue with the way we talk to each other online isn’t that we say bad things, but that we assume we’re talking to lots of other people who all agree with us.

Think how viciously we tear apart films, books, actors, bands, restaurants, jam, etc, that we don’t like when talking to people we know will, if not agree, certainly not be surprised by our vitriol. Yet were we to meet the people involved in those things in person, we’d likely moderate our views. We’d offer ‘constructive criticism’.

Well, I would, but then again I’m British. We’re so meek if John Wick had been a Brit in the film he wouldn’t have killed several dozen people to get revenge for the death of his dog* he’d have just written an angry letter. A letter that would have started: ‘I’m sorry to bother you, but by golly this just isn’t on’.

*(It sounds a stupid premise, but give it a go: they make it work)

I suppose, sat alone in our homes, we have only our point of view to go by when evaluating a comment we are about to post. I wonder how differently people would comment online if they had to read their response aloud to a group of strangers before posting.

I bet even just knowing they would have to read it out would make them change what they were writing. Even though the whole point of commenting online is that lots of people see your opinions.

There’s a study in there someone. That would be interesting to find out.

Do you think you sound like a troll online? Troll me in the comments section.

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1AM is not a good time to discover there’s more than one infinity

clockwork;

The other night I was living my usual rockstar life: eating cereal whilst watching videos on YouTube. I started off with logic puzzles – with mixed results – and ended up watching an explainer of the ‘infinite hotel paradox’. I’ve embedded the video at the bottom of this post, but the basic premise is this:

The infinite hotel has an infinite number of rooms. It also has infinite guests, which means that every room is filled. So if another customer arrives at the front desk asking for a room, they’ll have to be turned away, right?

If you happen to be reading this post in the middle of the night, go to bed now. This quickly becomes one hell of a rabbit hole.

At one point in the video, the narrator casually mentions that there is more than one type of infinity. Sorry, what?

How can there be any more than one type of infinity? It’s infinity. It is infinite – surely it has no limitations? Which means you only need one of it, unlike – say – a car. The reason there are so many different types of car is because not every car suits every purpose. Imagine the advert for the first car that tried to meet everyone’s needs:

Getting the kids to school will be no trouble with the new seven seater Ford infinity. Thanks to its front, rear, four-wheel-drive automatic manual gearbox with snow treaded tyres with added smoothness, you will be able to make the school run no matter whether your children attend an institution located in the middle of the suburbs, at the top of the mountain, or on an iceberg surrounded by penguins. The engine is located in the front, middle, and rear, leaving storage space under the bonnet, in the passenger area, and at the back. This makes it incredibly convenient to store your professional corporate family work bicycles, golf shopping, and food clubs.

And so on…

So doesn’t infinity do everything? Apparently not. It gets even harder to wrap your head around when you realise that if you asked a mathematician ‘Doesn’t infinity do everything?’ they would get confused as to which infinity you were referring. As if you’d asked a colleague at work ‘What does Brian actually do here?’ and watched as they try to figure out which of the seven Brians on your floor you mean.

So then I watched another TED talk about infinity, and things got even more complicated. You see, the problem is there are different ways of counting to infinity (I still don’t know what the hell I’m talking about, so if anyone clever is reading this, I have probably made a lot of mistakes already – perhaps an infinite number of mistakes. Oh yeah, I went there.) If you counted to infinity in the obvious way (one, two, three, et cetera) you get one type of infinity. But if you counted to infinity using, for example, the Fibonacci sequence (one, two, three, five, eight, etc) then by the time you reached infinity, you would have used fewer numbers. So what you have is not only two types of infinity, but one that is technically ‘smaller’ than the other.

Or, to use my own example, you can think about infinity in terms of the physical world. Take the surface of a football, for example. It has no beginning or end, so it is infinite. Yet it is quite small, which would surely mean that compared to a beach ball (which also has an infinite surface area) it has a smaller level of infinity. I think this means that if you had a series of spheres, each one marginally bigger than the one before it, you could count infinity in terms of traditional numbers. The smallest sphere could be Infinity One, and the next Infinity Two, and so on. Eventually you could reach Infinity Infinity.

This all occurred to me at 1 o’clock in the morning. You won’t be surprised to learn that sleep did not come easily to me that night.

Having a child – like character development, but more so

As a writer I spend a lot of time making people. They are all fictional, and it is my job to make you think otherwise. I have to make them feel real, bestowing flaws and talents, wants and desires, fears, shortcomings, relationships, and perspectives upon them to do so.

I have created many fictional people, some published, some not.

But recently things have been a bit different. There’s a new person in my life: I didn’t make them up, but I am partly responsible for their existence. A few weeks ago my fiancée gave birth to our first child, a baby boy. Logan.

Logan at two days old. He looks pretty inquisitive already, doesn't he?
Logan at two days old. He looks pretty inquisitive already, doesn’t he?

From idle chatter around campfires as a young boy, through teenage speculation at sleepovers, to the nine months of pregnancy, I have had plenty of time to ponder what it means to be a parent. I thought I had a pretty strong grasp of it. You see people doing it all the time, after all.

I’d considered all the nappy changes, the getting up late at night, the calming him when he cries. What I never really understood before he was born is that Logan, right now, is pure potential.

The day-to-day reality of his life may mean nappy changes and feeds and taking him in the pram to make our way through an assault course of grannies, but his existence – which is a much bigger thing – is full of ‘What if?’ Because my true role as a parent is to help him become the person he is meant to be; gently leading, but never pushing, guiding without forcing, enabling, not constricting.

Logan can be anything he wants to be. That’s not an empty sentiment, similar to what you might find in the average ‘motivational’ Facebook meme. It’s pure fact. His life can go anywhere.

When I look at Logan, I am constantly astounded by the experience and growth he is facing on a daily basis. Currently his eyes can’t focus, he hasn’t got the strength to hold up his own head, and he doesn’t even know that his arms and legs are part of his own body. He is a person, but such a tiny one, a seed ready to grow into something we can’t possibly imagine (but, not in an evil overlord kind of way. Probably).

Without stimulation, Logan's brain won't build the bridges it needs to discover a world of amazing possibilities. That's right, I did a metaphor.
Without stimulation, Logan’s brain won’t build the bridges it needs to discover a world of amazing possibilities. That’s right, I did a metaphor.

In the first few years of his life, Logan will create 700 to 1,000 neural connections every second. It is up to us to stimulate him into forging those connections, to create bridges between cells that give him access to greater function, new experience, and different ways of being. Each connection made is like lighting a candle in the dark, shining a light on a small part of a new future.

The more we work for him, the greater his future will be. For all my efforts in fiction, I will never create a character as complex, nor as beautiful, as him.


 

Liked my musings? Follow my blog for more of this sort of thing. Plus jokes.

Stories that took over the world

It all started here. And it's not over yet. Image Source: Forbes.
It all started here. And it’s not over yet. Image Source: Forbes.

I was listening to the Star Wars theme the other day, courtesy of Amazon’s new free music service for Prime Members (the fact that they seem to be trying to gain a monopoly over entertaining me is a topic for another post).

As the iconic music soared through the air, I began marvelling at the vast scale of Star Wars as an idea. I don’t mean in terms of plot and the environments in the narrative, but the huge impression it has left on modern popular culture.

I wonder what George Lucas would have made of it, had he known when writing Episode IV (the first Star Wars film, in case you weren’t already aware that George Lucas shares a numerical system similar to that of Microsoft and Windows) just what it would become. It’s fair to say the sheer scope of Star Wars as an entity is impressive, regardless of whether or not you liked the movies.

Films, television series, games, cartoons, books, stickers, toys, collectables, fancy dress, spin-offs, spoofs, soundtracks, stationary, clothing; the opportunities that have grown from this one concept stand as testimony to the power of a single idea. Let’s put all anti-capitalistic notions aside for the time being. What we have here is something that has become ubiquitous and relevant to millions of people, and it all started as just the right firing of neurons in the brain of a beardy man in flares.

That one idea has created industry. It’s created jobs and companies, and spawned countless attempts to copy it (some successfully, others not so). Its growth is exponential. When George Lucas first held the finished script for A New Hope in his hands, he was holding something akin to an Atom Bomb – a vast potential, an objective of such enormous energy. Or, more positively, he held the seeds to an entire forest, one that would grow and spread and thrive and dominate.

They say each of us has one good book in them. (A quick look on Amazon suggests that’s not true). Imagine if, going further, each of us has one phenomenal idea in them. Imagine if, right now, the structure of your brain is just right to one day birth a story, concept, observation, or world, that could one day grow to be as influential and popular as Star Wars.

The thought gives me goose bumps.

Trying to find something worthy to say

Something I have trouble with when it comes to blogging and Twitter is finding something to say. I sit there, aware I should say something, but nothing comes. Eventually it gets frustrating, and then I end up abandoning the whole idea. Sometimes thinking things is hard.

That’s a bit of a lie though, isn’t it? The average human has up to 50,000 thousand thoughts per day. That’s a lot of blog posts. We spent a long time evolving the filters to assess the relevance of each thought and stop ourselves saying most of the pointless rubbish our brains generate in a day.

Then someone invented social media, and all that effort went to pot.

There is an argument that places like Twitter provide a useful way of getting all that stuff out of our heads. In the same way crying is an exhaust system for excess chemicals in the brain, I’ve come to realise that perhaps social media can be a useful way of outsourcing brain power, and that my brain is full of things to say.

The problem isn’t – and actually has never been – a lack of something to say. The problem is the value I’ve been assigning to ideas. I’ve differentiated the thoughts that arrive in me old brain during the day from those I actively try to have. Surely I’m not capable of producing something interesting by accident? On the fly? (Interestingly, going back to the number of thoughts we have per day, it’s widely agreed that around 80% of those are negative).

I had put social media (blogging included) on a pedestal. But this isn’t the Sermon on the Mount. What use is a blog if you aren’t going to express your thoughts? And while I obviously want to say things interesting and relevant on my blog, I’ve realised I need to drastically reduce the admission price. I’d priced myself off my own ability to self express by valuing my thoughts too low. I didn’t feel like I had anything worth cashing in.

But my blog is for my thoughts. The bottom line is, I don’t have to earn this tiny part of the internet: it’s already mine.

Rewan, why you so many themes?

Regular readers will have noticed that my blog theme changes about twice a year. And now it’s changed again. Why can’t I settle?

ythemeThis change in theme marks a slight change in attitude and focus. A minor rebrand, if you like. This theme choice is about making my blog feel like a blog again, and making the other parts of my website less prominent.

Why?

As an introvert, I have a bit of trouble getting along online. I feel like a rabbit caught in the headlights sometimes. It’s not the technology that stumps me. The problem is I have a lot of filters set up between brain and mouth. Generally this is a good thing, but on Twitter the name of the game is spontaneity. And more often than not I compose a Tweet, spend five minutes wondering if it’s really worth saying, and if anyone wants to actually read it, and then hitting delete.

I sort of approach blogging in the same way. I think the end result is that I’m so cautious and withdrawn online that sometimes it can seem like I’m not there. I don’t express myself fully, because I spend too long worrying about how people will react. I don’t show myself to the world fully.

The idea behind making this website more blog focused and less focused on my writing is because I want to try and build better relationships and engage more people. I’ve worked long and hard to give the impression that I’m a serious and professional writer, but maybe that’s off-putting for people, considering I only have one book out at the moment. I want people to know that I’m here to talk to, trying to say things that matter, and looking for conversations.

And while I’m doing all that, I’m going to try and be more…well, me.

Say hello and help me out. You can also join me on Twitter. Let’s get talking.

What do you think a book is worth?

Image source: Goodreads
Image source: Goodreads

In my last post I talked about my ambivalence towards my recent purchase of £36 worth of hardback novels for just £2 in Tesco. I couldn’t decide whether to be happy or sad about this pricing. Which got me thinking, what do I feel a book is actually worth?

After all, I’d spend £2 pounds on a bottle of Coke and some Smarties, which would last me about an hour if I really rationed it. I’ve only read one of the books so far (Peter F Hamilton’s Manhattan in Reverse – see my thoughts on it on Goodreads) which took me several hours. So compared to some of the other things I would spend 200 pennies on, these books represent fantastic value for money.

I wouldn’t have bought these books if they were full price. That’s not to say I don’t value them, and in fact I’ve recently found a new love for hardback books. But at £18 a go, I simply cannot afford to buy.

Or can I?

We’re so used to chasing low prices we’ve forgotten the value of what we’re buying. Tweet this.

I’d pay £12 to go to my local cinema (that includes the compulsory sack of popcorn and bucket of Pepsi) to watch a two-hour movie. Let’s say it takes me about 10 hours to read 300 page book (I’m not a fast reader, but I get by). A cinema ticket without the confectionery is £6. So if I am willing to spend £3 pounds an hour to be entertained, then I should be willing to spend £30 on a hardback novel the length of Manhattan in Reverse.

I’m going to go to one of my local book shops – not an online retailer – pick out a book I like the look of, and buy it for full price.

And I think perhaps I probably would be happy to pay that. It’s just that I’m so used to being able to get a lot more for that amount of money that it seems like a bad deal. I’m not against Capitalism or consumerism on a conceptual level, but it does seem that perhaps we have actually started to like buying things, as opposed to the actual things themselves.

Look at me – I’m in a quote box!

– Rewan Tremethick

Perhaps it is time for a change in approach. I’ve got a lot of books on my shelves, so it will probably be a while before I’m out hunting for my next read. But what I’m going to try and remember to do, is not go looking for a ‘bargain’, or see how many books I can buy for the least amount of money. I’m going to go to one of my local book shops – not an online retailer – pick out a book I like the look of, and buy it for full price.

I think I will gain a lot more than I will lose.

What do you think a book is worth? Head over to my Facebook page and vote in my poll on book prices.

I want to hear from you: leave me a comment!

I just bought two hardback books for £2 and now I’m sad

photo(1)Turns out discount books aren’t always a book-lovers dream.

Like pretty much every other reader out there, I have a bit of a problem when it comes to buying books. It’s almost like a hobby in itself. There is no real logical reason for buying more – some of my previous purchases have been waiting unread on a shelf for years now. But a book is full of potential. You can lock it in a cupboard and it’ll patiently wait for decades if it must, and be in perfect condition when you do finally open that door and retrieve it, unlike many of the other good things in life, such as ice cream, or your best friend.

So when I saw books by Alastair Reynolds and Peter F. Hamilton on the shelf of my local Tesco for £1 each, the ol’ book buying demon reared its head once more. It’s just plain stupid to turn down a book at that price. And they were hardbacks, mind you. Hard covers are like lingerie for books. Considering they are about £18.99 usually, I’ve potentially saved myself about £36. That’s the kind of saving it’s worth buying stuff you don’t even want for. I’d buy seven horses and a bucket of locusts if they were £1.

However, I’m not totally excited. I’m also a bit sad. Books shouldn’t be sold for a £1. Not actual books, in a proper shop, by big name authors, covered in saucy cardboard and paper jackets. A book isn’t the kind of thing you should find in a pound discount section, or a pound shop. It’s not like a terrible plastic toy that will break within two minutes of being opened, forty day old ham, or three Polos wrapped in clingfilm with a sticker on them saying ‘valyou pacc’.

Books last forever. They give you untold pleasure, invite you to meet worlds and characters you can fall in love with. They make you laugh, they make you cry, they make you look clever when you’re sat in Costa and everyone else is on their iPad. It’s an experience, and of much more value than £1.

You could argue that it’s a moot point. I bought the books, after all. Can’t really complain about the price being too low, can I?

Except that I can. The reason I am complaining about the stupidly low priced books is the same reason I bought the stupidly low priced books. For a stupidly low price. I’m a book lover. And I don’t think it’s possible to take a side without being a hypocrite.

However, the novel is an art form. It’s not right that someone is prepared to spend millions on a varnished toilet made of bread, while top author’s books are being sold at a massive discount. I doubt anyone made much money out of that. It’s hard not to buy books when they’re cheap, because after all that’s what I want.

The recession has driven the price of most things up. I don’t think it’s right that art is where we decide to try and save a few quid.

Don’t forget you can still sign up for your chance to win 5 signed paperbacks for Halloween!

Did I turn several pages at once, or is it really September?

Grandfather_Clock_DrawingTime is a funny thing. It’s amazing how individual days can seem to crawl on, while the months simultaneously flit by like telegraph poles past a train window. As I sit here and dictate this, today already feels about a week long, and yet at the same time I am struck by that horrible realisation that it is September. It’s not that I have a problem with September (some of my friends were even born in September), it’s just that I have a problem with September being here.

Where did the year go? It seems like only last week that I was sitting down and writing out a list of all the goals I wanted to achieve by the end of it. Incidentally, most of them will go unfulfilled, but as I’ve published a book and got engaged this year I think I’ll call that a win. I know there’s still a third of 2014 left, but I’d still like to know what happened to the other 66%. Basically I’m worried that at this rate the next time I blink, I’ll open my eyes to find myself in a care home, at the age of 90, repeatedly watching countdown and waiting for the nurse to finish mashing up my soup because it was too hard.

Maybe it’s a symptom of modern life. Everything is instantaneous, everything has to have happened yesterday. Gradually, we are making the notion of waiting extinct. You can already order things off Amazon and have them delivered within 90 minutes (certain locations only, he reminds you, to the sound of thousands of Inuits slamming their laptops shut in disgust). Imagine when 3D printing is widespread, or teleporting. Patience is becoming less of a virtue, and more of an ancient skill that only a few eccentrics now preserve, like blacksmithing, sword making, or virginity. Time goes quick because we want it to.

Which begs the question, when we finally succeed in everything becoming instantaneous, will we even need time? If you can get everything now, do anything now, or have anything now, will we even need the idea of next year, or September, or Thursday? Perhaps time will find itself relegated to the pages of history, to slowly drift from truth to myth, eventually becoming fairy tale, as real or as likely to have existed unicorns, goblins, and innocent male celebrities from the 1970s.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons (Image out of Copyright)