For those interested in the more intellectual aspects of ghosts and monsters, I recommend checking out The Folklore Podcast hosted by Mark Norman. The first episode is on Slenderman, a topic I’ve been interested in even before the “Slenderman stabbings” brought the legend into so many peoples’ consciousness. Norman’s guest for this episode was Dr. Andrea Kitta who had some intriguing ideas about what this particular monster represents.
It’s uncommon to witness the birth of folklore. Slenderman is a case we can trace back to the origin. (The chupacabra is another example of this.) The origin was unusual, starting as photos with narratives and then evolving into experiences, instead of the other way round.
Kitta’s research involved interviews with children about how they saw Slendy. She noted that the level of belief is different when you do not know the origins of the story. For example, when the dramatic story of the Wisconsin stabbings came to light, worried parents Googled “Slenderman” to see what all this nonsense was about. They found conflicting information, a mish-mash of photos, often violent fan fiction, supposedly first-person accounts, all of which was not understandable as they lacked full-context of the origin as an Internet contest. Those just catching on in 2014 did not follow it from its beginning in 2009. Without seeing how it evolved, they could not discern whether it was real or not. Same with kids. Kids know OF Slenderman but it’s highly unlikely that they know or incorporate the fictional origin into their thinking. They see him as they need to see him. Fun, real or scary. A capitalist consumerist spirit or a government watcher in a suit. A spinoff of things we already recognize (the tall man, Men in Black, the boogeyman) or a portent of doom.
Kitta’s strongest interpretation is Slenderman as the “face” of online bullying. He’s always there – outside or in your closet – watching, unpredictable, with long tentacles of great reach. He is faceless, anonymous, ominous, something awful.
Kitta opines that Slenderman is a way for kids to relate to the problem of online bullying today. Slenderman can be escapist fantasy when he serves as a protector for the bullied. They imagine their tormenters meeting a violent end. The violence is channeled, though. It’s not them being violent, it’s Slenderman. He’s doing it. Kitta obviously discusses ostension that is so pertinent to this particular topic. We see people dressing as Slenderman for cosplay, legend tripping in places he is said to be seen, creating their own stories, reporting they actual see him, and in the worst case, committing real-life violence in his name.
Is it the internet’s fault that people were almost killed by this legend? No. There are deeper more complex issues. But humans wish to find an easy answer so they can exterminate a scapegoat and feel like they have done something towards solving the problem. Would it matter if people did know the origins? Would they not be outraged or frightened if they understood how fiction, folklore and the Internet weave together? It’s frustrating to see the mainstream news outlets take a typical shallow approach to social problems. For the most part, they did connect Slenderman to its Internet forum origins. But I think the parents were too freaked out to think through that part. They just blamed the Internet and didn’t see if there was something more troubling and real in the shadows of our culture that inspired it all.
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