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