Violent attack linked to scary Slender Man

Two 12-year-olds in the US who stabbed a classmate claim that a sinister online creature had inspired them. But can this violence really be blamed on a fictional figure?

He is unnaturally tall and thin, wears a smart, dark suit, and has only an expressionless blank where his face should be. He can stretch and shorten his arms at will, and is often shown with tentacles sprouting from his back. He steals children away to the woods and is said to be able to control mind and memory.

He is Slender Man.

Of course, this sinister figure is not real. He exists only in online forums and the imaginations of horror fans. But the popular urban legend has made headlines around the world in recent weeks after a real-life violent attack occurred, inspired by the menacing meme.

Last week, two 12-year-old girls from Wisconsin in the US stabbed another girl after luring her into a wood. They told police they carried out the attack to ‘prove themselves worthy to the Slender.’ Fortunately, the victim survived. But, coupled with reports of a similar attack this week, fascination with the fictitious villain has intensified.

Slender Man first appeared in 2009 on an online forum as part of a contest in which users were asked to transform ordinary photographs into more spooky, sinister images, using Photoshop. Of all the many entries, one stood out. In the background of two black-and-white photographs of children, one user had added a strange, elongated creature – Slender Man. The accompanying text hinted at a predatory figure who stalked and abducted people, often children.

These powerful images sparked a creative outburst and thousands of fans were inspired to produce their own horror stories, videos, games and artwork.

Slender Man’s penchant for dark woods and child-snatching has been compared to both ancient myths, such as the Headless Horseman and the witch in ‘Hansel and Gretel’, as well as more modern terrors, such as the slick, suited villains from the Matrix films, or Jack Skellington from ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’. But until this terrible crime happened, these creations were largely viewed as innocent. Could all that now change?

If you go down to the woods ...

Some believe that this urban legend has spun wildly out of control. The ability to manipulate images so convincingly on the web has made Slender Man frighteningly real in the minds of many teens. Some US schools have already implemented a ban on certain online forums, to deter any more copycat violence.

But others argue that children’s literature has always brimmed with terrifying monsters, ghosts and other horrors. To censor these and try to stop the creativity they inspire would suppress an important part of our culture. Besides, it is impossible to get rid of folklore – if we get rid of Slender Man, another sinister myth will simply take his place.

You Decide

  1. Should Slender Man be banned from the internet?
  2. Do horror stories and fairytales have a bad effect on us or a good one?

Activities

  1. In groups, list the fairy tales and stories that scare you the most. Then discuss why you think it is part of human nature to be fascinated by horror.
  2. Research an ancient horror story or myth from a different country, such as the hispanic ghost-monsters La Llorona and La Cucuy, or Russia’s Baba Yaga. Write a brief presentation explaining who or what they are and share your findings with the class.

Some People Say...

“We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.’Stephen King”

What do you think?

Q & A

Did Slender Man ‘make’ the girls violent?
While this story is disturbing, it must not be blown out of proportion; after all, Slender Man has only been linked to two attacks. It is important not to allow popular culture to obscure the more obvious reasons as well as deeper social issues behind such crimes.
What sort of reasons and issues?
Some psychiatry experts suggest that the girls may have suffered from bullying and self-esteem issues at school, and both are currently undergoing mental health evaluations. The relationship between art and violence has always been an uneasy one. The 1999 Columbine school shooting in the US was widely blamed on the music of controversial singer Marilyn Manson, yet bullying and the easy availability of guns in the US were far more likely to be the culprits.

Word Watch

Meme
An idea, style or action which spreads between people via the internet.
Prove
According to the folklore created around him, followers must prove their loyalty to Slender Man by killing. The girls were fascinated by him and wanted to please him.
Similar attack
A second stabbing linked to Slender Man occurred last Monday, when a young girl from Ohio attacked her mother with a knife.
Fans
A YouTube series featuring stories about Slender Man is followed by more than half a million people.
Headless Horseman
The Headless Horseman has been a part of European folklore since the Middle Ages. According to Celtic folklore, if he stops riding his horse, someone is about to die.
Matrix
The films depict a dystopian future where humans live in a simulated reality – the Matrix – which has been created by sentient machines to subdue and exploit them. Three sinister, dark-suited Agents try to prevent one hacker from finding out the truth.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
Tim Burton’s 1993 animated fantasy musical tells the story of Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town who discovers Christmas.

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