Reclaiming Slender Man

Slender

I love spooky stories. I love creepypasta. I love eerie tales told in the dark, and grainy videos posted to YouTube in the wee hours.

I love the Slender Man mythos. I love the stories and the games and the videos, even the cheesy ones. This is collaborative genre storytelling at its finest – organic and DIY. Slender Man is not completely controlled by a single entity (though the original creator and an undisclosed third party do hold copyrights), not slaved to some silly movie franchise that exists mostly for product placement and merchandising rights. In a way, Slender Man belongs to all of us. We are his Creators.

And I’ll be damned if two little sociopaths are going to ruin it for everybody.

On the morning of May 31, a cyclist biking along a dead-end dirt road near Rivera Drive in the town of Waukesha, Wisconsin, came upon a 12-year-old girl lying on the grass, suffering multiple stab wounds. She was alert, but had difficulty breathing. She could not summon help herself because she didn’t have a phone. The man called 911, triggering a county-wide search for two other 12-year-old girls named by the stabbing victim as her attackers. They were “friends” who had lured her out to a wooded area for a game of hide and seek after a slumber party the previous night, then stabbed her in the chest, arms and legs 19 times as she lay facedown on the ground. Thankfully, none of her injuries were life-threatening and she was able to crawl to the abandoned road.

Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier, two baby-faced girls with owlish eyeglasses, were apprehended at a furniture store near  I-94 later in the day. Geyser had the knife used in the attack in her backpack when she was arrested. Both girls readily confessed to police. It was clear from the beginning that Geyser was the leader of the duo and the brains behind the attack.

This is a familiar pattern. A strong, disturbed character attaches him/herself to a weaker (also disturbed) young person, develops a powerful bond with that person, then persuades him/her to commit motiveless crimes as a team: Parker and Hulme, Mary Bell and Norma X, Robert Thompson and James Venables, Harris and Klebold. Adult cases include Leopold and Leob, the Papin sisters (the inspiration for Genet’s play The Maids), and Carol Stevens and Rose Turford. In the latter case, a potent folie à deux may have been at work, with Mrs. Turford believing that her friend was being abused and controlled by a shadowy cabal of wealthy, perverted men.

These crimes were disturbing enough to send people into moral panic, and scapegoating became a coping mechanism for parents, educators, and social critics. Nietzsche was blamed for the crimes of Leopold and Leob. In the Thompson/Venables case, detectives were so desperate to find some motive for the brutal murder of 3-year-old James Bulger that they combed through a list of 200 videos the Venables family had rented in search of one that might have inspired the crime. They found some similarities between the crime and a single scene in Child’s Play 3, but couldn’t prove that Venables had ever seen it. The same panicky hunt for motive occurred after Columbine, with parents blaming everything from prescription meds to Wolfenstein 3D.
In the end, after years of Nietzsche-shaming and game-blaming, we still don’t have a cut-and-dried motive for any of these crimes.

But that won’t stop us from trying. Within one day of the Wisconsin attack, news outlets around the world were calling it the Slender Man Stabbing. Stories like “Who Is Slender Man?”, “Could a fictional Internet character drive kids to kill?”, and “Fantasy ‘Slender Man’ Meme Inspires Horrific Wisconsin Stabbing” appeared alongside alarmist columns about What Your Child Is Doing on the Internet. Parenting blogs posted lists of warning signs that Your Child Might Not Be Able to Distinguish Fiction from Reality. Even a Creepypasta Wiki admin seemed to accept that Some Kids Don’t Know What’s Real and What’s Make-believe.

You see, Geyser and Weier both told police that they tried to kill their friend as some kind of sacrifice to Slender Man. Weier said that Geyser told her they needed to slaughter their friend to become “proxies” of Slender Man. She said they both hoped to be allowed entrance into his mansion, hidden somewhere within northern Wisconsin’s Nicolet National Forest. They planned to kill their buddy, then walk to the mansion (a mere 400 miles away from Waukesha). They had become so immersed in the Slenderverse that Geyser believed she was in telepathic communication with SM.

I call bullshit on all of this.

I don’t know their motive(s). You don’t know their motive(s). Hell, maybe they don’t know their motive(s). But I’ll tell you this: There is no way that two American 12-year-olds raised in suburban Wisconsin believe Slender Man is real. They were deeply into the mythos, obviously, and may even have play-acted or “performed” it to some extent, but they did not believe it was real in the same way that dentists, squirrels, and hipsters are real. They had other, unknown, reasons for slashing their poor friend. We may never know what those reasons were.

So why would they say it? Well, they’re smart enough to know that feigning insanity is something criminals often do to gain leniency, but not smart enough to know about the M’Naghten rule and the futility of insanity defenses and the horrors of indefinite detention in locked-down mental health facilities. They probably worked out their “defense strategy” a day or two ahead of time, in half-assed 12-year-old fashion.

The media was delighted to go along with this, because “Slender Man Stabbing” sounds heaps sexier than “Mildly Deranged Tweens Cut Their Friend”. Let’s face it: Without the creepy meme angle, this story would have stayed in Wisconsin. The motiveless 2012 murder of 16-year-old Skylar Neese by two of her best friends didn’t receive half this much attention, even though that case led to the correction of serious flaws in the Amber Alert system.

The defense lawyers love it, because having a client who believes Internet Horror Stories Are Real is significantly better than having a client who Stabs Her Friends for No Effing Reason. Not that this will have any real benefits. Ask John Wayne Gacy’s lawyer.

The only people who have ever entertained the notion that Slender Man is an Actual Guy are Coast to Coast AM listeners, the same people who report sightings of Black-Eyed Kids, Shadow People, and Holes to Hell. I have always been a bit concerned that fear of the BEKs could lead to violence against an innocent child, but that hasn’t happened to date. Most C2C fans are harmlessly eccentric.

You find me one – one – 12-year-old suburban American child of average intelligence and normal mental capacity who believes that Slenderman is a Real Thing, and I will remove this post and issue a retraction. In the meantime, I will view the Slender Man mythos in the same way I always have, and enjoy it every bit as much as I always did. Richard Leob didn’t ruin Nietzsche. Dylan Harris didn’t ruin SSRIs. Anne Perry didn’t ruin walks in the park. I will not allow Geyser and Weier to ruin some imaginative, spooky fun.

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