The Slender Man: A 21st Century Myth

October and, uh, the begin­ning of November, is Horror Month here at the Ontological Geek! All of our pieces this month relate to hor­ror in games, and we’ve got a bunch of great guest arti­cles lined up for your enjoy­ment.

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.

Who is The Slender Man? Something awful.

No, seri­ous­ly. The Slender Man orig­i­nat­ed on the SomethingAwful Forums in a creepy Photoshop con­test (that is, a con­test to cre­ate a creepy Photoshop photo, and not a com­men­tary in any way on the creepi­ness of the con­test itself). slendy

The exact his­to­ry of the Slender Man phe­nom­e­non has been expert­ly cat­a­loged at KnowYourMeme. I’m not here to tell you about the Man of the hour; since you Internet reg­u­lar­ly enough to know about this esteemed pub­li­ca­tion, it’s a safe bet you already know him1. Today I want to do a lit­tle social com­men­tary, and hope­ful­ly shed a lit­tle light on this creepy-ass pasta we’ve got cook­ing.

These days, for a fic­tion­al char­ac­ter to embed hir­self in our col­lec­tive internet-mind, ze is almost always embed­ded with­in a larg­er intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty. Batman, ubiq­ui­tous though he is, is depen­dent on the larg­er DC Comics jug­ger­naut. Mario, America’s favorite Italian plumber from Japan, is sim­i­lar­ly bound up in the sta­ble of Nintendo’s char­ac­ters and king­doms, and he can’t exact­ly be sep­a­rat­ed from Nintendo or its var­i­ous prop­er­ties. Practically any ref­er­ence one makes to any­thing in pop cul­ture is a part of some­thing larg­er. Who is John Galt? A tired lit­er­ary ref­er­ence. People always ask me if I know Tyler Durden. Sure, I tell them, I’ve seen Fight Club.

Slendy, how­ev­er, is dif­fer­ent.

Though there are by now IPs fea­tur­ing Mr. Man, my per­son­al favorite being the Slender series of games, he exists inde­pen­dent­ly of them. People can know of the Slender Man with­out hav­ing ever heard of his games. It is this inde­pen­dence, this lack of an actu­al Slendycanon, that makes Slendy so haunt­ing. Ol’ Skinny-britches is an intel­lec­tu­al free agent; any story can be made up about him and be a legit­i­mate part of his mythos.

What we’ve got here, folks, is some­thing we don’t see much in this day of intel­lec­tu­al­ism and tech­nol­o­gy. I feel the Man has seized the pop­u­lar imag­i­na­tion so2 because he is a new myth. He is a gen­uine mod­ern folk-creature. Here in America as brought to you by Whitey, we don’t have a deep, rich myth­ic cul­ture. Our roots aren’t even a half-millennium old yet; we haven’t had time to cook up any­thing awe­some, let alone super­nat­u­ral­ly stu­pe­fy­ing. American myths are empow­ered work­ers (think John Henry and Paul Bunyan), gun­slingers (Pecos Bill or any num­ber of cow­boys and out­laws), or wild out­doorsy types (Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett). We don’t have too many spooky things, any deep, for­got­ten shadow-gods who will steal our chil­dren away if they mis­be­have.

The real­ly intrigu­ing thing about the Slender Man phe­nom­e­non is that there exist many equal­ly valid mytholo­gies sur­round­ing this myth­ic fig­ure. While the Marble Hornets crew in par­tic­u­lar has taken great strides to record his exploits, many par­al­lel mytholo­gies and sto­ries exist, many of them con­tra­dic­to­ry. We’re not quite sure what Slendy does to you, just that he is fol­low­ing you, and that this is a Very Bad Thing.  In some sto­ries he is asso­ci­at­ed with mem­o­ry loss and a per­sis­tent, chok­ing cough, where­as in oth­ers he kills peo­ple and/or ani­mals and neat­ly rearranges their organs in plas­tic bags. There is some­thing of a race to can­on­ize cer­tain iter­a­tions and aspects of the Slender Man. I imag­ine this is a com­bi­na­tion of Slendy’s new-and-shininess and the fact that we as a soci­ety aren’t exact­ly used to hav­ing a new bit of folk­lore so ready-made for us. What do we do with the Tall Man? What does he do? The only way to find out is to put him in some­thing and see what sticks.  So here’s to the Slender Man, per­haps the Internet’s first ghost story.

Sorry, faith­ful read­ers, that this is such a short arti­cle. I actu­al­ly had quite a bit to say, but in writ­ing this I seemed to lose long stretch­es of time and couldn’t account for where much of my work actu­al­ly went. And all the headaches and other tem­po­ral odd­i­ties. It felt as though some­one were actu­al­ly try­ing to stop me from get­ting to the bot­tom of all this. Oh well. Happy Horror Month, and here’s a link to my Glorious Editor mak­ing a funny and get­ting drunk­scared.

  1. We’re all pret­ty much in agree­ment over Slendy’s gen­der, so no gender-neutral pro­nouns this time around. []
  2. It would be remiss of me not to men­tion the 2012 movie The Tall Man, mark­ing Slendy’s cin­e­mat­ic debut. []

Chelsea L. Shephard

About Chelsea L. Shephard

Chelsea L. Shepard (formerly Hannah DuVoix) doesn't write for the Ontological Geek anymore, but she used to be our Editor-in-Chief! She is currently earning her MFA in Game Design from NYU and is probably also thinking about Fallout: New Vegas.