“If you don’t go to bed, the bogeyman will come and get you!”
“The bogeyman will come after you, if you keep sucking your thumb!”
Did you hear these phrases when you were a child? Maybe they were said to you or your brothers or sisters. They were common traditional phrases used by parents to frighten young children into behaving appropriately or to cajole them into doing what their parents asked them to do. Not exactly politically correct and, in these modern times of high definition, realistically scary characters or monsters in films or games, very unlikely to work.
A few years back, however, a phenomenon appeared on the web that could be considered the modern day ‘bogeyman’, the only difference being that it wasn't parents that invented it, it has appeared as a consequence of youth culture’s fascination with all things horror and ghoulish.
In the summer of 2009, a poster by the user name of “Victor Surge’ contributed two black and white images to the ‘Something Awful’ internet forum. The images depicted groups of children being watched from the shadows by a very tall, thin figure. Surge also added text, purporting to be from eye-witnesses, describing abductions of children. Surge gave the character the name “The Slender Man”
As well as being very tall and thin, the Slender Man had unnaturally long, tentacle-like arms and was usually dressed in a dark suit and tie. It was regarded as male and possessed a white, featureless face, which only added to the creepiness of the character.
The Slender Man captured the web’s collective imagination and, as these things so often do, it soon when viral, spawning online fiction called “Creepypasta”, fan art and cosplay. Inevitably, it wasn’t long before fan-made videos started to appear on the ‘Something Awful’ forums and this only help to feed the rapidly growing ‘mythology’ that was building around the whole phenomenon.
As the web community’s interest in Slenderman grew, the boundaries between fiction and reality blurred, as a consequence of the variety of conflicting online perspectives. This had the effect of obscuring the origins of the character and offered the whole saga an air of authenticity.
In May this year, however, tragically the whole urban legend became something entirely different when two 11 year old Wisconsin girls allegedly lured their friend to woods near their home and repeatedly stabbed her in an act that was apparently carried out “…to impress Slenderman” who, they insisted to investigators, was real.
Shortly after this incident, another took place in Ohio, when a mother came home from work and was attacked by her 13 year old daughter with a kitchen knife, wearing a white mask. During the attack the mother said of her daughter “…it was as if she playing a role, it didn’t feel like her” and afterwards she found some very “dark” writings and drawings created by her daughter referencing Slenderman - she had even created a whole world within the online game ‘Minecraft’, for the character to live in.
This incredible story demonstrates tragically how powerful the influence of the internet can be and how a viral phenomenon can so easily manifest into something that, to vulnerable young minds, can gain authenticity and appear real. It is why it is so important that parents and teachers need to be vigilant and monitor what young people are watching, reading and browsing. It is why films and video games have age-ratings - they are not there as something to snigger at and dismiss, they are there for very good reasons and should be treated seriously.
"There is a point to be made that e-safety education also needs to incorporate digital literacy, with a emphasis on understanding the context and veracity of information on the Internet. That children need to be trained to critically appraise the information they are reading in the same way we would hope to train them to be media aware enough to understand the political bias in a newspaper or the reliability of 'facts'" - E-safety Support
8/9/14 - There is an online game which can be downloaded associated with this urban legend which can be found at www.slendergame.com