Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

How a Meme Becomes Myth

What could drive two 12-year-old girls to allegedly stab a friend in a methodical, premeditated fashion? If you take their word for it: Slender Man, a character conceived on an internet forum in 2009 and subsequently featured in countless amateur stories and a series of low-budget games. Here is the local paper's account:

Both suspects explained the stabbing to police referencing their dedication to Slender Man, the character they discovered on a website called Creepypasta Wiki, which is devoted to horror stories.

Weier told police that Slender Man is the "leader" of Creepypasta, and in the hierarchy of that world, one must kill to show dedication.

Contrast that with the origin story of the character:

On June 8th, 2009, a “’paranormal pictures” photoshop contest was launched on the Something Awful (SA) Forums. The contest required participants to turn ordinary photographs into creepy-looking images through digital manipulation and then pass them on as authentic photographs on a number of paranormal forums. Something Awful users soon began sharing their faux-paranormal creations with layered images of ghosts and other anomalies, usually accompanied by a fabricated witness account to make them more convincing. On June 10th, SA user Victor Surge (real name Eric Knudsen) posted two black and white photographs of unnamed children with a short description of “Slender Man” as a mysterious creature who stalked children.

If you're 12, 2009 may as well be a century ago, and the Creepypasta Wiki may as well be a sacred text. It is impossible to get inside the heads of these children, or, for now, to understand what else may have motivated them. Maybe these stories were the catalyst! Or maybe they were just available in the periphery of broadly disturbed lives.

It is easier, however, to get in the heads of reporters, who are using language like this.

That's from the Washington Post, which goes on to refer to Slender Man, an internet meme, as "a mythological demon-like creature" and "the demon." The Daily Mail calls Slender Man a "prevalent internet myth."

I suppose that's a more compelling way to provide context than describing Slender Man as "a recent phenomenon in the ad-hoc creative writing communities on sites like 4chan, Reddit and Something Awful," or something, but it also gives far too much credit to what amounts to a forum myth that started as a prank. Which might be fine, if the accused weren't getting so much credit themselves: They will be tried as adults.

5 Comments / Post A Comment

novak (#259,779)

Oh wow, that's sad. I really enjoyed discovering Slender Man – mostly through the various games created from the myth. I loved playing the indie game Slender and watching other gamers' Let's Play sessions with the various Slender Man games. Such a shame that this happened, that these kids took it way out of hand.

Ralph Haygood (#13,154)

"just available in the periphery of broadly disturbed lives": I think that's an excellent description of the role violent stories, video games, etc. tend to play in outbursts of violence by ordinary people.

HereKitty (#2,713)

Not that the headline wouldn't suck just as hard if they did, but reporters at a paper the size of the Post (either one, actually) don't write their own headlines.

queensissy (#1,783)

This is reminding me of when the press kept mentioning that the Oklahoma cannibal Kevin Underwood spent all of his time playing "online role-playing game Kingdom Of Loathing" until they actually looked at the game and realized it was just a bunch of stick figures drinking fruity cocktails.

Was the attempted murder simply all about proving to oneself that horror villains and their pedestal fantasy lives still existed and that by proxy one could elevate themselves to a memorable status (as the two girls have done but for all the wrong reasons) or a conceited plan just to create murder outright, to find out what being a villain was really all about? And if so why their friend? Or are we to really believe that some individuals have to internalize such fantasy stories as real?


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