Urban legends present a unique group of stories that have captivated minds for centuries. Though no one story is the same, urban legends offer the same general structure. They are moldable, usually change depending on who is telling them, and are often relayed as experiential. These characteristics make all sorts of urban legends persist through the ages. A modern day example of an urban legend is that of The Slender Man. A mysterious and adaptable figure, Slender Man captured the minds of countless youths across the world. So intoxicating is this legend, that some even followed the stories to violence. No matter the nature of the “origin” story, Slender Man persisted through countless adaptations and has become an insidious example of the power of imagination.
There is not a definitive or canonized belief system pertaining to Slender Man. His image and belief set that is attached to him changes according to the particular person engaged in the story. However, he is typically depicted as a tall, thin man who wears a black suit. He has long, spindly arms, sometimes multiple, like a spider. Depending on the interpretation, he can cause a variety of symptoms such as memory loss, insomnia, paranoia, distortions of the mind, and incidences of teleportation (Kim, 2019). In terms of His character, sometimes he is depicted as a “dark guardian angel” who is sent to rescue children from their abusive families, or from bullies. In other interpretations, he is seen as a vicious killer who feeds on young children (Brodskey, 2017).
Information regarding the actual legend of Slender Man can be found through a variety of means. The original image of Slender Man was developed by an artist named Eric Knudsen in a 2009 Photoshop contest for the web forum “Something Awful”. He superimposed an image of a dark figure onto 1980’s photographs of children playing in parks (Cohn, 2018). From there, the image inspired writers and film makers to create their own similar interpretations. Stories and
“experiences” popped up on sites like Creepypasta and Wikia (Cohn, 2018). These sources offer artists own personal depictions of the Slender Man legend. They are presented as true, and made to seem authentic or realistic. Videos shot with phones or low grade cameras allow footage to appear realistic, and actor commentary adds to the authenticity (Brodskey, 2017).
The legend was most popular in the immediate years following Knudsen’s Photoshop contest. Between 2009 and 2015, there were countless stories and videos circulating the internet focusing on Slender Man (Kim, 2019). Over the last few years, the popularity of the legend has tapered off, though there are still some blogs and video games dedicated to the character (Kim, 2019). While there is countless information devoted to this character online, belief in Him is undoubtedly extraordinary. Slender Man is a being that is not founded in scientific fact, nor is he substantiated by any actual evidence. He was merely created, and believed.
For the believers of the Slender Man legend, evidence may seem to abound. The believers of Slender Man are young, impressionable, and vulnerable. Mainly, they are middle school aged children who have alone time on their internet devices. Without parental supervision, or the general understanding of what is and isn’t real, the apparent “evidence” of stories and videos seem overwhelming (Brodskey, 2017). Children are impressionable, especially those who are lonely or suffer from a broken family or bullying. Often times, children in these situations feel ostracized, or as if they are outsiders from their communities. In these circumstances, a powerful image, whether He is seen as insidious or dangerous, can be comforting. A sense of belonging is not to be underestimated. In this way, Slender Man can seem very real to a child (Brodskey, 2017).
On the other hand, there is no substantiated evidence to support the actual existence of Slender Man. While one can acknowledge the apparent attraction of his character, there is no
factual basis for any of the claims associated with the stories surrounding Him. While videos and pictures may appear as evidence, experts can easily regard them as being Photoshopped. Additionally, the creator of the first actual image of “Slender Man” is known to be Eric Knudsen. It is factual that His first original “imagery” was created in 2009 for a Photoshop contest.
All in all, it is easy for adults to disregard the idea of Slender Man as a foolish childhood story. But, to those who are vulnerable, it can be very real. Children are impressionable, and the internet is very powerful. It offers a community for those who need it, and within that community, patterns of groupthink can develop. It can be nearly impossible to break off the effect of this apparent community once it has developed. The internet offers an escape, and the fantasies it offers can seem extremely real. The community belief of Slender Man is no different. The children who believed and believe in this story are devoted followers. It is important to acknowledge that although their belief is not founded in fact, it is indeed very genuine.
Kim, Brad, and Tomberry. “Slender Man.” Know Your Meme, 20 Mar. 2019, knowyourmeme.com/memes/slender-man.
Cohn, Gabe. “How Slender Man Became a Legend.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 15 Aug. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/08/15/movies/slender-man-timeline.html
Brodskey, Irene, director. Beware The Slenderman . HBO NOW®, 2017, play.hbonow.com/feature/urn:hbo:feature:GWDXSHA84tMLDwgEAAACY.