WASHINGTON, Feb. 22, 2015 — He’s omnipresent, he’s tall, and his lanky arms can reach into every home, affecting the lives of every family – especially the lives of children. No, it’s not President Obama. It’s the monster of urban legend, Slender Man.
In 2009, an Internet forum called Something Awful challenged its members to submit creepy, digitally altered photographs one might see on a paranormal website.
The winner, if you can call him that, was Eric Knudsen for his Slender Man submission. Knudsen’s creation consisted of a black and white photo showing a group of children. An unusually tall figure lurks ominously in the background.
“We didn’t want to go, we didn’t want to kill them,” said the message accompanying the image, “but its persistent silence and outstretched arms horrified and comforted us at the same time.” The post noted that the photographer was unknown but “presumed dead.”
In an On the Media podcast interview, Knudsen said a forum member joked, “Wouldn’t it be funny if some of these [images] ended up on paranormal websites?”
“The way I see the Slender Man is his body can morph,” Knudsen said of his grotesque creation. “If he wants to look like just a tall, more conventional looking guy, that’s what he’ll look like. But if you keep looking at it, and keep digging, and keep searching, it’s going to start getting worse and worse for you. I like the concept of a monster; a creature that causes general unease and terror. Its methods are strange. Its motives are completely inscrutable.”
And an Internet legend was born.
This phenomenon is called a “meme,” what the online Urban Dictionary defines as “an idea, belief or belief system, or pattern of behavior that spreads throughout a culture either vertically by cultural inheritance (as by parents to children) or horizontally by cultural acquisition (as by peers, information media, and entertainment media).”
Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León braved the dangers of a cross-Atlanic voyage and encounters with Native Americans in Florida’s humid jungle climes in 1513. The ships, men and supplies were well worth the expense of the enterprise, its backers thought, if de León found the legendary fountain of youth.
And it’s fascinating that historians rarely discuss the impetus for Hitler’s global conflict, the basis for the suffering of countless millions of refugees fleeing their burning cities and villages, and the intellectual fuel that powered the mass executions of the Holocaust: These were predicated on a 19th century occult notion that “superior” Germanic Aryans descended from a race of giant god-men that lived on a Nordic Atlantis called Thule.
Fantasies mixed with evil make for a toxic cocktail.
No one knows this better than Payton Leutner, a 12-year-old girl from Waukesha, Wisconsin. Last May, she was stabbed 19 times. According to Payton’s physician, one thrust of the knife missed a major heart artery by less than a millimeter.
She was allegedly stabbed by her two best friends and classmates in an attempt to appease Slender Man.
In a Waukesha police video released to ABC News, Morgan Geyser, one of the alleged assailants, tells the police, “I was afraid of what would happen if I didn’t [kill Payton) … He [Slender Man] watches you. I’ve never seen him. He’s everywhere,” she said.
The second suspect in the stabbing, Anissa Weier told authorities that by acting as Slender Man’s murderous “proxies,” the girls would earn entry into the mansion of the lusus naturae, this freak of nature, which they believed stood inside northern Wisconsin’s Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.
Utopian fulfillment, purchased with the blood of the innocent, at the urging of a malevolent cult leader — the Slender Man template is all too familiar.
“Is socialism great in theory?” asks National Review’s editor-at-large Kevin D. Williamson in his book The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism. “It is intellectually narrow, inhumane, and deeply irrational in that it fails to account for the ways in which knowledge works in a society. Socialism in theory is every bit as bad as socialism in practice, once you understand the theory and stop mistaking it for the common and humane charitable impulse.”
The childlike apology for the sins of collectivism — a “charitable impulse” — requires blinding ourselves to its escalating violence meant to attain unattainable utopia.
“If you want a vision of the future,” wrote George Orwell, “imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.”
Or the stabbing of a young girl to appease a fictitious meme that inspires the childish desire to bring about a magical future that can never be.