When Fantasy Becomes Reality

Photo courtesy of Danielstark
Photo courtesy of Danielstark

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.220px-Slender_Man_graffitti

“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.

 

Author: L. A. Lewandowski

Lois Lewandowski graduated from Rutgers University with a degree in Political Science and French Literature. A passion for life lived well is reflected in her novels, Born to Die-The Montauk Murders, A Gourmet Demise, and My Gentleman Vampire, giving readers a glimpse into the world of the beau monde. Lois lives in Tampa, Florida. Learn more at her lifestyle blog, and her Amazon author page.

20 thoughts on “When Fantasy Becomes Reality”

  1. So well written and excellent points…unsupervised TV watching can distort young minds all right…I’ve seen it happening and been aghast that so many parents do nothing to prevent impressionable minds from getting messed up…thanks!

    1. Hello Mira,
      I was the pain in the neck parent who didn’t want my young son playing the first person shooter games or watching the PG-13 movies without me. I did let him listen to all sorts of music in my car when I took him to school. Those times when he couldn’t escape became a great opportunity to talk about uncomfortable topics.
      We should not underestimate the power of movies or TV to scare children, or to warp their sense of reality. We can’t leave it to businesses bent on profit to err on the side of caution.
      Thank you for your comments.

  2. When I wa 8 and my sister only 6 we saw “Bambi”, a Disney movie intended for kids. It was the only movie we had seen and we did not have TV at home. My sister had nightmares for 6 months about Bambi’s mother getting shot. It shows even Disney can be too scary.

    1. Yvonne,
      You’re not the first person to tell me that. Who would think that a cartoon would cause nightmares? I think giving evil powers to something like a stuffed animal or a cartoon character is scarier than many of the slasher movies. Parents need to sit and watch the shows their children are watching on TV. We limited cable channels for years because of our children.
      Thanks for stopping by.

    1. Thank you, Dale.
      I rewrote this post a couple of times because I didn’t want it to be preachy. But, I believe strongly that parents need to be aware of all the media their children are exposed to.

  3. It’s hard to make parents understand how powerful media is. One of our sons was terrified of clowns, we had no idea. We hung a clown picture in his bedroom, he thought we were out to get him. Our grandsons were terrified of Wallace and Gromit when they were, in theory, old enough for it. One of them cut up the DVD to be sure it was out of the house. In addition to monitoring, I think it’s critical for parents to teach their kids to say no to anything that makes them uncomfortable, that includes people, touching, and media that scares them. And then respect that. Kids are bombarded, and parents are masters at telling them that they really don’t feel that way. At discounting their gut reactons. We don’t have to see every scary thing, every horrible thing humans can and do inflict on each other, to understand it. We’ve taught our grandsons to walk away when it’s too much. Go at it from both directions. It makes the kids smarter, safer, and better able to deal with the world when parents aren’t around, which is most of the time.

    1. Hi Mary Ellen,
      I think the advice you gave your grandsons is excellent. My daughter was and is petrified of clowns. I think it stems from a country circus that we took her to. There was a raunchy looking clown walking around and he tried to hand her a balloon. She freaked out, at two years old, and crawled under the bleachers. “No cowns, mommy, no cowns!” And, if a child doesn’t feel comfortable with an adult there may be a reason.
      Thanks for your comments.

  4. “If a person cannot separate fantasy from reality, they are either too young to know the distinction, or they are mentally unstable.” Spot on Lois. I agree completely, but… with smartphones now able to access the internet, and most kids in the West owning a smartphone of one sort or another, policing content for underage users is beyond parents.

    My daughter is now 27 but I remember the first time I bought her a mobile phone it was for safety – in case we needed to contact each other during an emergency. I suspect that is still the main reason parents buy their kids mobile phones. Unfortunately those mobile phones now do a whole lot more than just make calls.

    I suspect technology will swing around and cover this gap eventually, but for now I can’t see an answer other than lots and lots of communication between parents and children.

    1. Hi AC,
      You make a good point that sometimes the child will see something they aren’t supposed to. I’m not sure what type of parental control can be set-up on a smart phone. Which makes me think… have we abdicated our parenting responsibility to Apple and Samsung? If they don’t have some sort of control on it the answer is simple – ask to see the phone and see what sites the child is viewing. I realize many messages, etc., can be deleted easily, but a parent should be able to insist that a child hand their phone over.
      I know this sounds preachy, but I don’t agree with the attitude that a thirteen year old is entitled to their technological privacy. I let my children have messy rooms, and that was as far as it went. I would check my daughters messages sporadically throughout HS until she was an adult. There are sick people out there who use technology to lure children. She didn’t like it, but she knew it was for her protection.
      Thanks for your comment. My daughter is twenty-six and I no longer read her messages. 😉

      1. -grin- Ditto re the messy room! I took the path of heavy conversations so I’m not sure how effective that was, but the Daughter is now an adult and a good person so I think we survived. That said, I wouldn’t want to be bringing kids up in the here and now.

  5. Excellent post, Lois, and I agree with you completely but, as AC says, it seems almost impossible at this point in time to monitor and safeguard inquisitive young minds.

    1. I agree.
      Parenting comes with a lot of challenges. My mom would send us outside and we would play for hours, only coming home for meals and to use the restroom. It was a simpler time.
      Thanks for stopping by.

    1. Lin,
      How about “My Parents Are Amish”, the sign that hung on my daughter’s bedroom door for years. I didn’t care… Amish people make delicious pies and they have a great work ethic. I’ve been called worse.
      Btw, my son wants to read Mexican Slang 101. He’s lived in a frat house with forty other guys so I doubt you can shock him. Hm, maybe I shouldn’t challenge you.

      1. One of the funny things about comparing Mexican and US slang is that the former is pretty tame… half of the major “bad words” are animals. Compared to the US where we causually use horrible terminology. Drop me a lone about MS101

  6. Excellent post. It is a parent’s responsibility to protect their children. This includes all forms of media. The key is knowing your child and discussing what they read/view.

    1. Happy Saturday!
      You hit the nail on the head – talking to our children about what they are interested in, be it movies, music, or books is the basis of good parenting. Discussing the themes of various art forms is a great way to communicate.
      Thanks for your comment.

  7. One problem with any sort of defensive thinking on this topic: there is absolutely no way to predict what will trigger people’s weirdness.
    I remember a study once done to determine what images were most provocative to groups of incarcerated rapists and child molesters. Know what won? The billboards of the Coppertone girl with the black spaniel tugging her pants down.
    Hinkley didn’t shoot Reagan because of Hannibal Lector–he did it to impress little Jody Foster.
    The Manson killings weren’t triggered by death metal, but by a Beatles song.
    You can’t really take responsibility for what people do with what you send them.

    1. Interesting point.
      This is a safe for work site, so I will tactfully say that the Coppertone child is sweet and innocent, a darling all-American iconic image that a perverted person would surely want to sully. I’ll bet that there was a lot of other stimulation going on in Hinckley’s world. I would love to know what he was reading, etc. Isn’t he bipolar? Perhaps he was off his meds.
      Manson and crew were on hallucinogens big time. Since we don’t know what one child might become obsessed with, to the point of violence, I feel strongly that a parent needs to keep a close eye on what media their children are exposed to.
      I wrote in the article that I am against censorship. I believe artists should create freely. I posted a Youtube video on my Google + page that shows the top ten scariest villains in recent history, and Slender Man came in at number one. This sort of entertainment is not my taste, but it is very popular with kids.
      Thanks for your comments.

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