A deeper look into the misunderstood urban legend.
On the last day of May this year a pair of 12-year-old girls in Wisconsin invited one of their friends over for a slumber party, lured her into a game of hide and seek in the nearby woods, then took turns stabbing her 19 times with a kitchen knife. It’s the type of thing you expect to see on Discovery ID or some other investigative murder porn channel programming, a lurid tale of youth gone bad. Let’s face it in the age of the well-planned mass shooting stories like this are now all too common. What came as a real surprise was their motive. The victim, who miraculously survived after being discovered by a cyclist, was a school pal they bore no ill will towards. When asked why they decided to kill their friend, why they’d been planning the gruesome attack for several months they both gave the same answer: they wanted to impress Slendy.
Slender Man is a modern day urban legend birthed online. He’s a true bogeyman for the digital age, one incubated on internet bulletin boards and reared through crowdsourcing from our collective nightmares. What started out as a contest in an innocuous thread in the Something Awful Internet forum in June of 2009 quickly took on a life of its own. Under the user name “Victor Surge” creator Eric Knudsen contributed two black and white images of groups of children, to which he added a tall, thin spectral figure wearing a black suit, spicing the images up with creepy captions taken from fictional witnesses to the abductions of groups of children. Knudsen named his creation, putting his stamp on this glossy new demon and sending him out into the world. In no time at all fresh images, videos, and haunting stories of the fictional creature began to flourish in the dark recesses of the web, growing like mold.
The internet had fallen in love with a new bad guy. They just couldn’t stop talking about him. Soon people were drawing up elaborate histories of The Slender Man, connecting him with old myths from around the world that featured similarly disturbing accounts of child abduction and murder. “Slendy” as his fans affectionately refer to him, is still a work in progress being whispered into existence through a multiplicity of dark voices like a living ghost story with many different collaborators.
The lack of an official version of his roots, appearance, or motives often results in narratives that conflict to some degree or overlap with other familiar legends like the Tree People or even Jack Skeleton from Disney’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. Creator Eric Knudsen says he drew inspiration from the old horror guard, including Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft, and William S. Burroughs. In an interview with Know Your Meme Knudsen stated that his intention was “to formulate something whose motivations can barely be comprehended, [that triggered] unease and terror in a general population.”
In addition to his unnaturally long proportions and dark Men in Black style suit and tie, the Slender Man also has long, tentacle-like arms which he uses to entrance and capture his victims with. In most accounts he is reported to gracefully hover rather than actual walk like a biped. His face is obscured as if it is made of cotton or gauze and he most often is imagined wearing some form of a hat. Not only can he teleport he is also capable of triggering what’s known as “Slender sickness” just by being near him; a condition marked by the rapid onset of paranoia, nightmares, hallucinations, dementia, and nose bleeds. This special power allows him to lure in his victims, generally children and almost always in the forest, but not always. The Slender Man seems to get a perverse thrill from tormenting people who would expose him, stalking them down and driving them literally mad with his terrible supernatural gifts.
What makes this freshly spawned monster even more appealing to fans is his overwhelming visibility, a trait that seamlessly bonds him to the hearts and dark imaginations of the Selfie generation. Unlike the elusive Bigfoot or Lochness Monster the mythical Slender Man isn’t camera shy. In fact he seems to enjoy being captured on film, generally as a blur in the distance standing near children who later are reported to have vanished. No one knows what he does with the kids he allegedly takes. Some say he murders them and hides the bodies. Others say he merely watches over them, transporting them to a sort of dark paradise he lords over like Charlie Manx’s Christmasland. Which brings us back to the knife wielding hormone fueled would be killers in question.
After reading up about their new dark obsession on Creepypasta Wiki and sorting through untold hours of regurgitated fan fiction the accused hatched their plan to make him a sacrificial offering. They called their plot “Stabby, stab, stab” saying they honestly believed Slendy would reveal himself to them if they killed in his name. They explained that Slender had threatened them and their families and could even read their thoughts. They believed he would take them to his special realm and make them his privileged acolytes according to the Milwaukee police report.
Once the story broke the media predictably latched on like a rabid dog, fomenting a frenzy in the name of saving and protecting the children. Stories quickly began popping up on CNN, MSNBC, and FOX warning parents of the dangers of The Slender Man, telling them to talk to their kids before it was too late. Ironically the same paranoia the well-dressed ghoul was rumored to instill in victims gripped the hearts of parents nationwide as they scrambled to learn more about this new threat to their offspring, taking up the virulent opposition with the same intensity former generations used to rally against such previous child corrupting influences as electronic dance music, Salvia, and rainbow parties. Naturally the internet and its unrestricted access to all things took the brunt of the blow, with the Creepypasta Wiki coming under the heaviest fire for corrupting the youth. While the idea that the actions of a deranged pair of murderous young adults forcing a fan fiction bulletin board to defend itself may seem absurd to rational adults, the pressure from mainstream media outlets grew so intense that eventually the site was compelled to make this statement:
“This is an isolated incident, and does (not) represent … the Creepypasta community as a whole,” the statement reads. “This wiki does not endorse or advocate for killing, worship, and otherwise replication of rituals of fictional works. There is a line of between fiction and reality, and it is up to you to realize where the line is. We are a literature site, not a satanic cult.”
In fact The Slender Man is just one of dozens of characters on the site, a fact Knudsen points out as he expressed his own disbelief that the meme was still alive and kicking. When the news of the stabbings reached him, Eric, a father himself, was understandably shaken. He released this statement:
“I am deeply saddened by the tragedy in Wisconsin and my heart goes out to the families of those affected by this terrible act.”
He’s since been unavailable for comment or interviews. He filed a copyright back when the character began to spread on social media, finding it’s way into video games, ARG’s, and now even a popular app. But Knudsen is the first to admit that while he spawned this alluring devil he’s not in charge of his destiny anymore. “I feel like less of a creator and more of an administrator, in a lot of respects, or the manager,” he told NPR in the interview last January. “I feel like I’m Slenderman’s manager, and he’s out there doing his thing, and I need to just kind of watch him and take care of him.”
When reports first surfaced that a deranged youth referenced Stanley Kubrik’s A Clockwork Orange after a violent attack on a schoolmate the director had the film pulled in the U.K. Likewise author Stephen King let his school shooting themed story Rage go out of print in the wake of Columbine. But Knudsen can’t simply censor himself to collude with the current knee-jerk reaction hysteria surrounding his fictional demon. No matter how much he wants to he can’t just unplug the Slenderman because he doesn’t belong to him. The ghost is in the machine and will continue to thrive until we stop feeding it.
The victim, whose name can’t be released due to her being a minor, has received outpourings of support and donations from a site set up online to ease the financial burden brought on by the horrifying assault. The girls behind that attack will most likely be tried as adults for their crimes, although one of the alleged stabbers has since been ruled mentally incompetent. Shortly after the news of the stabbings broke, just around the time of Slenderman’s creation, a Cincinnati woman came forward saying her teenage daughter had attacked her as well. The mentally ill girl was said to be obsessed with Slenderman as well. And so the legend continues to grow and evolve, doing its best to avoid becoming just another victim himself on the ever growing trash heap of dead internet memes.