Beware the Slenderman is airing on HBO on January 23rd which takes an in-depth look at the fictional faceless man’s impact on two young girls who stabbed their friend in the woods, to keep Slenderman happy.
Slenderman was created by Eric Knudson as his entry for a Photoshop competition but despite these banal beginnings, the horrors of the Slenderman began to take a hold on internet users over the world. The frightening realistic image that Knudsen created began moving through the internet and ended up on fan fiction site creepypasta. As his notoriety grew as did the images and the stories alleging his real existence, putting him in the frame of old photos with children and lurking in woodlands. Games, short videos, viral videos, photos and stories started to spread like wildfire over the internet and the spectre of Slender Man became a prominent feature in forums and online communities.
All harmless fun until someone gets hurt right?
Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weiern, two twelve-year-old girls who made headlines in 2014 after they stabbed their classmate 19 times in order to prevent Slenderman from killing their families. Eric Knudsen, who has remained radio silent since the attack spoke through his publicist about the event 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”.
What drives me crazy is the fact that parents are blaming the internet and Knudsen and everyone else for creating such a horrifying character and falsifying stories, photographs and official looking reports to spread mass hysteria on the internet. What we should be doing is applauding these people for fuelling something so creative and convincing so many people that he is real by simply using their creative editing skills and imagination. The appearance of Slenderman on creepypasta resulted in more information being dreamed up and fan written stories of accounts of Slender Man appearing to them. The media isn’t to blame, nor is the internet. The children who committed these violent acts truly believed that Slenderman was telling them to do so, they had obsessive diary entries and meticulous plans for carrying out this attack. They knew what they were doing was wrong but the idea that something greater than them was telling them to do it prevented them from differentiating right from wrong. In fact, Morgan Greyser has unsurprisingly been diagnosed with early onset schizophrenia.
Should we not be protecting our vulnerable young children from being able to access these kinds of things on the internet, and if your answer to that question is yes, then how do you propose we do that? Maybe someone as young as twelve shouldn’t have unsupervised access to the internet but are we then denying them the basic human right of having freedom to information?
The trouble with widespread panic amongst the public is that it is usually very misinformed or based on invalidated claims, leading to scaremongering amongst naïve and vulnerable people. Take the Salem Witch Trials, one of the earliest known times when a society was gripped by moral panics, the idea that women were practicing witchcraft in this small town spread exponentially through America and that women in your town could be doing the same, so the local crazy cat lady would also be subjected to such wild accusations. The same can be said for the idea that films, music and games influence our young and vulnerable citizens to commit heinous, murderous acts. The Columbine shootings were linked to the film Natural Born Killers, the game Doom and music by Marilyn Manson. The disappearance of Asha Degree is linked to the historical novel The Whipping Boy and most recently a Virginia school removed all copies of To Kill a Mockingbird after a parent complained about the racial slurs. Parents seem to be unable to look beyond the media texts at the mental wellbeing of their child and rather than addressing the issues at hand, seek to remove or blame something created for entertainment purposes. Watching a film didn’t make Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murder their classmates and a book about two boys going on an adventure didn’t make Asha Degree run away and never come back. A collection of pixels and colors didn’t make two girls stab their best friend either. Their influence on each other perhaps maybe lead to a certain egging on and to please Slender Man was certainly their motive but the underlying psychological issues were more prevalent than anything else.
We live in a blaming society, I live in the UK and it is the same over here too. When toddler Jamie Bulger was brutally murdered by two children in the early nineties, parents and the media found Childs Play 3 had been rented by the father and thusly the boys must have watched it, been influenced by the torture scenes in it and then carried those acts out on a child they found in a shopping mall. No, that is not what happened. That would imply that these children don’t know right from wrong, they knew. The lengths that they went to not only torture and kill but sexually assault this child didn’t come from watching a movie. Anyone can see that this character of Slender Man is not real and is not to be feared, so why are people so afraid? The real question is why this young girl’s schizophrenia wasn’t picked up before she took a knife to her classmate. Were there signs that were missed by parents, teachers and friends? Do we as a society not take children seriously if they tell us they are experiencing something that could be linked to a psychological disorder? We are always looking for a scapegoat, which sadly is usually something in the media. The idea that this spectral figure haunts our forests and lures our children to their deaths is like a real life horror movie, but it isn’t real life, is it?
I’m not saying that the internet and the media are not influential, of course, they are! Influence doesn’t have to be negative, the effect of the media on different audiences is undeniable. Advertising often pulls on your emotions to get you to buy a product or donate money. Sometimes watching a documentary can spark a new interest, or encourage you to try something different. A film can make you see things differently and change the way you are. The internet is getting out of control and the problem is that the generation who are the most vulnerable are the ones that know the internet better. Children can navigate past firewalls to get to see what they want to see, parents can think that they have a safe network but really there are so many loopholes and gaps. So what are we supposed to do? Ignore it and hope for the best? If the internet usage of these girls had been monitored, would parents have had any idea that they were going to stab their friend? Or if they did, would the girls have found another way of doing it, away from their parent’s eyes?
This documentary may have the answers we are looking for, to further uncover what made these girls do what they did and the impact of these crimes on American families. Blaming the creator and the people who spread the stories of Slender Man is unfair and unjust, the way in which this world has been created in only a small number of years is impressive and the imagination and creativity that came with is admirable.
Have you seen the trailer yet? Check it out below and don’t miss HBO Documentary Films: Beware The Slenderman debuting Monday, January 23 at 10:00pm.