Slenderman: The Internet Urban Legend That Scared Me Like No Other
Before I begin, I would like to give a warning. This post will include descriptions of attempted murder and slightly disturbing images. If you don’t think you’ll be able to handle this week’s post, feel free to click off now. I won’t judge you, I promise. 🙂
When you hear the word “creepypasta,” what comes to mind? If you weren’t active on the internet in the early 2010s, you might think of a Halloween recipe a quirky middle-aged mom might make from Pinterest or maybe a mispronunciation of a new monstrosity called “crispy pasta” that probably emerged from the mid-south. However, if you were an internet kid like me, I know you’d recognize it instantly.
Creepypasta is defined by Urban Dictionary as “Essentially internet horror stories or myths passed around other sites to frighten readers and viewers. The word “creepypasta” comes from the term “copypasta,” an internet slang term for a block of text that gets copied and pasted from website to website. Creepypastas are sometimes are supplemented with pictures, audio, or video footage related to the story, typically with gory, distorted or, otherwise, shocking content.” So, in a nutshell, a creepypasta is just a horror version of a copypasta, and the latter half of the word isn’t a reference to the popular Italian dish; it’s a play on the copy-and-paste aspect of the stories. Another thing creepypastas are known for is being, well, pretty bad. Sure, there are some outliers like Ben Drowned and the SCP Series, but most popular stories are well known for their sub-par storytelling and generic tropes. However, there is one story in particular that scared me senseless as a kid, and still fascinates me to this day.
The Slenderman is one of the most, if not THE most, recognizable legends on the internet. The creature first emerged from a 2009 photoshop contest on the Something Awful forums online.
The caption under the image read:
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.
The second submission is just as popular.
The caption under this image read:
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.
— 1986, photographer: Mary Thomas, missing since June 13th, 1986.
These images sparked inspiration in the minds of internet users everywhere. Stories and fan-art were created and spread all over the place. These stories built the lore of Slenderman, and soon there wasn’t just one creator of Slenderman, but rather the internet culture as a whole came together to create their own personal boogeyman. In 2012, Slenderman was adapted into a video game titled Slender: The Eight Pages. Within its first month of release, the game was downloaded over 2 million times, which, at the time, was an exponential amount. Popular YouTubers played the game as well, which thrust it into an even bigger spotlight and exposed the game to a young audience. Because of its popularity, more games were made, and the lore of Slenderman grew larger very quickly.
The Creepypasta fandom hit its peak around 2013/2014, and the only way I could properly describe it would be.. unexpected. The main audience for these stories were surprisingly preteens and young teenagers, despite the gory and disturbing nature of the tales. The thing is, these kids weren’t necessarily fans of the stories themselves, but rather cutesy-fied versions of the antagonists in them. I could go into this more, but this is not the main point of this blog. It’s actually a pretty interesting topic, so maybe in another post.
What is important, though, is the fact that I was (sigh) one of these preteens who were obsessed with these caricatures of these scary teen villains. I wasn’t just interested in these versions, though. I also really liked reading the original stories and writing my own. I hate to say that part of my passion for literature was spawned by creepypasta, but it’s the truth. The Creepypasta Wiki was a go-to for me and was my ideal website to visit when I was bored other than YouTube or Wattpad. (Yes, I was one of those kids) But, anyway, the ones that I enjoyed the most were the many versions and additions of the Slenderman lore. For a time, I genuinely believed he was real, and, like the title says, it scared me to death. I was around 10 in 2014, and that’s when I was really into all this. I lived in the middle of the woods, and I would avoid looking outside out of fear of seeing Slenderman. This was mainly because one of the versions of the “slender” story had something called “slender sickness,” which you would catch just by looking at him. It would drive you into paranoia and madness, eventually killing you. This was made popular by the indie online video series Marble Hornets, which I actually very highly recommend if you’re into creative found footage horror or ARGs.
(This is a “movie” made by compiling together all the clips and episodes of the original series. It’s a bit easier to keep up with, but I recommend checking out the original YouTube channel for a more authentic feel.)
I would cry whenever I had to go into the woods or wasn’t allowed to close my blinds. I got scared whenever my technology would mess up because that was another “sign that Slender was near.” Looking back now, it’s a pretty funny memory, but at the time, nothing was more terrifying.
Things came to a screeching halt in the community when on May 31, 2014, two 12-year-old girls from Wisconsin lured their friend Payton Leutner into the woods and stabbed her 19 times in an attempt to prove the fictional character Slender Man was real and to become his “proxies,” another term that stemmed from the Marble Hornets series. Payton miraculously survived, but it raised a moral dilemma in regard to the creation and sharing of stories involving the character. This was one of the wake-up calls for me as a kid, and I quickly was brought back into reality when this all went down. Both girls were sentenced to 25-40 years in mental institutions, and the Creepypasta Wiki was banned in many school districts across the country. Eric Knudsen responded to this by saying: “I am deeply saddened by the tragedy in Wisconsin, and my heart goes out to the families of those affected by this terrible act,” and the admins of the Creepypasta Wiki along with many prominent creators in the community came together to raise money for Payton and her family. Still, the character of Slenderman began to fade away from the internet space during this time. I became uninterested in the community soon after as well, and I stopped being involved for many years.
Since then, mainstream movies, book series, and more games have been created based off of the internet legend. However, they lack the rawness and internet charm that the story had. The changing nature of the story was like no other, and it still fascinates me to this day. I can’t properly express how famous and influential this character was in internet culture, but since Halloween was just around the corner, I thought why not revisit this childhood monster of mine.