“The idea is that there is a man that lives in the woods, he is very tall and lanky, he wears a suit and has tentacles on his back but the biggest thing is that he doesn’t have a face, when you look at him it’s just a white head, a flat nothing. I honestly don’t remember how I first heard about- it was probably just through talking to other kids because it became such a big deal because Slenderman started as a creepy pasta where someone wrote a story and it just spread through the Internet. There’s a whole bunch of scary photos with a child next to him and the whole idea is that he would lure kids into the woods and kill them. One of the things that was scary about him was that the more you research the Slenderman, the more likely he is to get you. So like as you look stuff up, he’s like gonna put you on his list like this person looking too much into it. I don’t fully know how that started and it made it scarier because we can’t find anything about him.”
My informant is a 16-year old from Kansas City, Missouri. She is active on the Internet and has been on YouTube since early 2010. In the early days of the Internet, people invented short stories that would be spread throughout the Internet via copy and pasting, earning the name copy pastas. Eventually, this act of sharing stories transformed to fit the horror genre and this subculture was known as creepy pastas. These stories are shared in Internet circles as short and creepy stories and are subject to reinterpretation with each telling. My informant, being invested with the Internet, learned of several of these throughout the years and remembered this one in particular.
My informant brought up this story during a walk around her neighborhood when I asked her about scary stories from her childhood.
This story is interesting as it represents several fears for a generation that is heavily present on the Internet. Firstly, the Slenderman takes from similar urban legends of the past featuring a man in the woods who seeks to hurt others. It should be noted though, that this specific story states he only seeks to hurt children, which is done to emphasize his cruelty and evil nature. Furthermore, it is tailored to fit those who would stumble upon the story, most of which would be younger children using the Internet. Being entirely on the Internet also changes how people could discuss the story, which features prominently in this telling of the story. The informant told me that she heard you could not look anything up about the creature, as it would make you his target. This is fascinating, as it plays into the fears of a generation with seemingly unlimited access to technology, which is a restriction of said content. If nothing else, the Slenderman also represents an entire shift in the methods by which stories are told. Whereas other classic horror stories are primarily told orally, the Slenderman’s origins are entirely on the Internet. This pushed the content of the piece to better fit this audience, and it adapted to address fears of this generation of kids on the Internet.
For an in-depth look at the history of this legend, see: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/15/movies/slender-man-timeline.html