Should we (still) be afraid of the Slender Man?

How has the internet influenced how stories spread?

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The internet age has a lot to answer for in terms of defining today’s offline culture. During the mid 90s dotcom boom, we’d Ask Jeeves our burning questions, talk to people with a series of abbreviations that made even the first man look articulate and connect to this new world accompanied by the screech of a dial-up modem.

It was in these early days that forums and chat rooms were the first vestiges of humans trying to connect in a virtual world, and many became the genesis of some of the internet’s most enduring memes.

While some, like 1999’s Hampster Dance, live on only in the dustiest corners of the web, others, spawned in the age of limitless information, have proliferated beyond the imaginations of their creators.

Such is the case of Slender Man, which has crossed over from the digital realm to become a movie adaptation of the same name that’s set to hit cinemas on 30th August.

A relatively recent addition to the internet’s vault, Slender Man was created in 2009 when forum user Eric Knudsen submitted an image of the character as part of a creepy Photoshop contest.

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Unnaturally thin with a featureless face, the image – which took 15 minutes to create immediately became a meme, and meme became mythology as other users began to pen the sinister character’s backstory.

“It was amazing to see people create their own little part of Slender Man in order to perpetuate his existence,” Knudsen said in an interview.

“I didn’t expect it to move beyond the forums. And when it did, I found it interesting to watch as sort of an accelerated version of an urban legend.

“On the internet, anyone is privy to [the story’s] origins as evidenced by the very public [forum] thread,” he added.

“But what is funny is that despite this, it still spread. Internet memes are finicky things and by making something at the right place and time it can swell into an urban legend.”

But it was when teen girls Anissa Weier and Morgan Geyser lured a classmate into the woods in 2014 and viciously stabbed her 19 times in tribute to this fictional internet character, that online legend finally became a horrific reality.

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It’s precisely this collision of online legend versus reality that the upcoming Slender Man is set to explore.

Inspired by the scores of narratives online, the film follows a group of teens fascinated by the mystery surrounding the internet tale.

Convinced that the character is a hoax, they set about gathering proof to fuel their argument. But when one of them goes missing, it seems that the Slender Man may just exist after all.

As the film launched worldwide, it attracted some controversy from those who believe that the tale mirrors real life a little too closely.

“It’s absurd they want to make a movie like this,” Bill Weier, father of Slender Man assailant Anissa, said. “It’s popularising a tragedy is what it’s doing.”

Whether it’s a case of life imitating art or just a story that got out of hand, it’s clear that with the Slender Man movie, the legend has achieved immortality – proving that once something is posted online, it’s truly there forever.

Starring: Joey King, Julia Goldani Telles, Jaz Sinclair and Javier Botet
Directed by: Sylvain White
Rating: 18TC
Running time: 95 mins

WORDS Camille Hogg

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