With recent interest being shown by the likes of SyFy's Paranormal Witness, we're hearing more these days about the Internet-born meme known as Slenderman. Despite a well-known origin, many still firmly believe in the reality of Slender Man--or, at least, something like him.
The phenomenon began within the murky depths of a "paranormal pictures" photoshop contest hosted on Something Awful Forums back in the summer of 2009. This contest asked participants to manipulate previously-established images into something creepier. One user, Victor Surge, presented two black and white photos of children with a mysterious, extremely tall being dubbed "Slender Man". Pseudo-journalistic text accompanied the images, adding a further layer of verisimilitude.
“We didn’t want to go, we didn’t want to kill them, but its persistent silence and outstretched arms horrified and comforted us at the same time…” – 1983, photographer unknown, presumed dead.
One of two recovered photographs from the Stirling City Library blaze. Notable for being taken the day which fourteen children vanished and for what is referred to as “The Slender Man”. Deformities cited as film defects by officials. Fire at library occurred one week later. Actual photograph confiscated as evidence. – 1986, photographer: Mary Thomas, missing since June 13th, 1986.
From this inauspicious beginning, the legend took hold and spread like some dark plague of paranoia throughout the world. In time, "he's real" type stories began cropping up from various online posters who swear they've had real-life encounters with such a being. Even if the actual "Slender Man" had been made up, they say, he was based on a very real entity the creator likely saw.
Slender Man doesn't really seem to do anything to terrorize; it seems sufficient that he simply is terrifying. In this way, he reflects the changing culture we live in, one that moves too quickly to do more than recount legends and myths in shorthand. We have within most of us a wealth of readymade motifs, archetypes, and tropes fueled by countless pop-culture references, horror films, novels, and the like to fill in the gaps any tweeted legend might offer. Another example of this would be the Black Eyed Kids meme, which I have discussed before HERE.
Slender Man is not the first zeitgeist to slip into that gray realm of I-swear-it's-really-real. In 1970, English journalist Frank Smyth wrote an article for Man, Myth and Magic, wherein he manufactured the ghost of a mad vicar who, in life,
robbed and killed boarders to his rooming house. In the years since that
article, at least eight books have recounted the tale of the vicious vicar,
citing it as "true". Even after the author appeared on television to
explain the hoax, many "witnesses" adamantly claimed they had see the
clergyman. All of this being, of course, quite reminiscent of works such as Arthur Machen's The Bowmen.
We can easily play
around with what-if scenarios, such as: What if WE created these manifestations
by focusing on them? I think of the SORRAT (Society for Research on Rapport and
Telekinesis) experiment wherein a group focused on creating a ghost named
"Philip" with only their minds, manifesting him from sheer thought.
This is like the Tibetan concept of a Tulpa, a thoughtform that manifests from
the mind of an adept. If the Tulpa is strong enough, it can, in turn, manifest
its own thoughtforms.
But these are actually
all very facile explanations that do little more than comfort and coddle the
minds of those who (for whatever reason) WANT to believe. The truth, it seems,
is much harder to grasp. Although, if anyone, I suspect Slender Man could give
it a try.