When bad things happen, it seems to be a reflex that people look around for someone or something to blame. And this week, Slender Man (more recently written run together as “Slenderman”) is the convenient target.
I’ve written about Slender Man before, in a post two years ago in which I pondered the question of why people believe in things for which there is exactly zero factual evidence. And in the last two weeks, there have been two, and possibly three, violent occurrences in which Slender Man had a part.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with this particular paranormal apparition, Slender Man is a tall, skinny guy with long, spidery arms, dressed all in black, whose head is entirely featureless — it is as smooth, and white, as an egg. He is supposed to be associated with abductions, especially of children. But unlike most paranormal claims, he is up-front-and-for-sure fictional — in fact, we can even pinpoint Slender Man’s exact time of birth as June of 2009, when a fellow named Victor Surge invented him as part of a contest on the Something Awful forums. But since then, Slender Man has taken on a life of his own, spawning a whole genre of fiction (even I’ve succumbed — Slender Man makes an appearance in my novel Signal to Noise.)
But here’s the problem. Whenever there’s something that gains fame, there’s a chance that mentally disturbed people might (1) think it’s real, or (2) become obsessed with it, or (3) both. Which seems to be what’s happened here.
First, we had an attack on a twelve-year-old girl by two of her friends in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in which the girl was stabbed no less than nineteen times. The friends, who are facing trial as adults despite the fact that they are also twelve years old, allegedly stabbed the girl because they wanted to act as “proxies for Slender Man” and had planned to escape into Nicolet National Park, where they believed Slender Man lives, afterward. They had been planning the attack, they said, for six months.