On June 9th, a thirteen-year-old girl obsessed with the meme Slender Man waited for her mother to come home from work. Wearing a white mask to obscure her features, she attacked her mother, inflicting multiple injuries including one serious puncture wound. Weeks earlier, two young women in Wisconsin stabbed their friend nineteen times as a show of allegiance to the same meme. They told police that committing this violent act would show their absolute dedication to Slender Man. They wished to become his acolytes.
Slender Man was created by Erik Knudson AKA Victor Surge on a website called SomethingAwful, a forum for Internet geeks and Photoshop pranksters. On one of its forum threads Slender Man was born.
“The Slender Man is a supernatural creature that is described as appearing as a normal human being but he is described as being 8 feet tall and he has vectors or extra appendages that are described to be as sharp as swords. The creature is known to stalk humans and cause many disappearances. He is described as a shadow creature that has missing a face. The creature fits into many mythologies in legends from nations such as Germany and Celts which brings up the possibility that he could be real. A man named Victor Surge found this legend and made his own version of it, which he called slender man. The slender man is not exactly evil according to mythology but Victor Surge’s version shows him as an evil creature that stalks humans to kill. In mythology he was actually trying to save you from a painful death by taking you to the under world early.”
While most memes evaporate into the white noise of a Facebook feed, Slender Man struck a chord, and inspired other creative types to expand on his legend. On a fan fiction site called Creepypasta, there are twenty-nine stories about Slender Man. He is a meme of dark habits, happy to inhabit the moldy, damp corner of a basement, perhaps waiting patiently for a child to chase a ball into the shadow. He is an Internet monster whose reach and power is as long as the spider-like appendages he can grow at will. His appeal stems from his ability to stir that uncomfortable, but not unwelcome feeling in our gut. The titillation of fear can be addicting.
One of my favorite movies growing up was Horror Hotel. A young college student, a pretty blonde woman who is studying the occult, is sent by her professor to a town inhabited by witches, ostensibly to learn about a local witch who was burned at the stake. Christopher Lee is masterful as the professor who also happens to be the leader of the coven. One of the signs that a person is going to be sacrificed is for the chosen victim to find a small bird in the nightstand drawer with a pin through its heart.
My six-year-old sister overheard that we were getting up one night to sneak downstairs and watch this movie. She said we had to let her watch it with us or she would tell. Long story short, she watched it and was petrified. My brother teased her about it, and she ratted on us to our mom, and we lost Chiller Theatre privileges. To get even my brother placed a fake bird with a pin in it in her nightstand drawer. I can still hear her screams. My brother got in quite a bit of trouble, and my sister still doesn’t think the prank was funny.
At six years old most children still believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, monsters, bogeymen under the bed, et cetera. Although I do not believe in censorship, I do believe in age appropriate books, music, and movies. The Internet is another area that requires parental supervision. A parent cannot leave it up to websites meant for adult entertainment to police their visitors. I was pleased to see that Creepypasta required a birthdate to be entered, and to make sure you had your parent’s permission. When I accessed SomethingAwful I was allowed onto the main page and could see all sorts of topics not suitable for children. I hope they change this in the near future.
Recently, my son babysat twin eight-year-old boys for a friend whose sitter cancelled at the last minute. He asked the boys to choose a movie, and one held up the movie World War Z.
“We’re not allowed to see this movie,” he said. “It has ZOMBIES in it. It’s my dad’s favorite movie. He says the zombies aren’t real.”
The quiet twin leaned toward my son and whispered, “They aren’t real, are they?”
The first twin, a confident and friendly boy turned to my son with a worried expression on his face.
“Of course not,” my son told them. “That’s all made-up. They wear lots of goopy make-up.”
Both boys were relieved and they chose a Lego movie. Brightly colored blocks that talk are less likely to cause nightmares and encourage acts of violence.
Who is to blame when satire, horror, or fictional tales spark assaults and other heinous acts? Ultimately, it is a parent’s responsibility to know what their child is doing, and control the fantasy they are exposed to. The creativity of artists should not be censored. If a person cannot separate fantasy from reality, they are either too young to know the distinction, or they are mentally unstable.