While creative alt-world internet-dwellers are familiar with the terrifying landscapes of disturbing web forums, much of America learned about the monster known as The Slender Man after two teen girls were found to have stabbed a friend as a tribute to the digital deity. This begs the question: what the hell is The Slender Man, anyway? Luckily we're here to answer all your questions about the world wide web's favorite boogeyman.
Ok, what's the deal?
So: in about 2009, Eric Knudsen aka Victor Surge came up with the design for a monster during a photoshop contest on the Something Awful forums. The idea of the challenge was to turn everyday photos into paranormal happenings. Knudsen came up with the image of a tall, faceless, alien-like being hanging in the background of an image of bewildered children. He captioned the image with tidbits of text that began the virtual mythology of the character: "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…" and "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."
So he's just something some dude photoshopped?
Originally, yes. But like all cool things on the internet, he became a bit of a viral sensation, with numerous contributors each adding another complex layer to his fictional biography. Some people thought of him as an interdimensional alien, others as a government experiment, others as some kind of inexplicable Lovecraftian nightmare. In some stories, he has tentacles for arms and can teleport, in others he kidnaps children. There's no real "official" account of Slender Man because the entire internet made him up, together.
The viral YouTube series Marble Hornets, which purports to be found footage, explored the character in depth:
Do people actually believe in him?
Well, this is where it gets tricky. People began to troll each other with spooky "found" images of the fictional ghost so much that it became impossible to tell what was a joke and what was meant to be the recounting of an "actual" encounter. In this way, Slendy is kind of an urban legend — but existing largely on the Internet.
Fortunately or unfortunately, Slender Man became a bit of an internet cliche after a while, leading to things like this:
To what extent is Slender Man used ironically or sincerely nowadays? With images of Slender Man, like with images of Pepe or Dat Boi, it has become literally impossible to decipher the intention of their usage.
Wait but those girls actually stabbed someone as a tribute to him? Was it like a joke?
Yeah, who knows! While it's obvious the girls suffer from some kind of mental instability, there is always the chance that their act of violence was some kind of post-ironic troll and not a shared internet-inspired hallucination or delusion.
Even scarier, though, is that Slender Man inspired crimes have continued to occur. A different teen girl set her house on fire in 2014. She, too, claimed the Slender Man compelled her to do so.
Slendy was also linked to a handful of suicides at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, with various townfolk beginning to classify the the ghoul as some kind of "suicide spirit."
“They call him the Tall Man spirit,” said Chris Carey, a minister who works with youths at that reservation. “He’s appearing to these kids and telling them to kill themselves.”
It's actually pretty creepy if you think about how something that was meant to be a kind of ghastly fiction has turned into the impetus for real world violence. As if he was conjured into reality by our terrifying imaginations. Or maybe the Slender Man has always existed, in a way.
Or something. I don't know.
That's actually pretty unnerving.
I know, right? Maybe keep your lights on when you go to sleep tonight.
[Photo: Screenshot from YouTube]