The two obvious problems with the media’s coverage of the Slender Man stabbingPosted: June 9, 2014
In the past week, there have been two heavily publicized instances of little girls stabbing their loved ones in the name of Slender Man; the first being the two 12-year-old Wisconsin girls charged last week as adults for stabbing their “best friend” last year, the second a 13-year-old in Ohio who tried to stab her mom while wearing a white mask. The media has tripped over themselves trying to explain Slender Man, and inadvertently (or purposefully) demonized Creepypasta, unsupervised Internet usage and online culture. Even those outlets that did not demonize these suspects still failed to properly portray the reach of Slender Man and the stabbings in context of the Slender Man community.
Like all killings the media takes a shine to, a large roster of armchair psychologists have come out of the woodwork to bloviate on Slender Man. Everyone, including those not qualified, especially those not qualified, are theorizing on online culture while completely glossing over the community aspect of a phenomenon like Slender Man. Folks that are qualified to write about online culture, like this lady at the Washington Post, this lady at the Verge and this gentlemen at the Awl (not linking to said trollish article), have also massively fumbled to explain these stabbings in context of the community. (Why the Verge is linking to the awful tone-deaf Awl piece is beyond comprehension, but that’s a post for another matter.)
So here’s the first thing wrong with all this Slender Man stabbing coverage: the absence of Pew Die Pie and adequate mentions of Slender Man in video games
Why is top YouTube celebrity Pew Die Pie important? Well, a large portion of his fan base comprises of girls in the same age range as the little girls stabbing their loved ones. Teens and tweens don’t watch TV as much any more, they watch YouTube and play video games. Pew Die Pie’s main claim to fame is his Slender Man videos and many little girls got into Slender Man because of his charming accent, golden locks and good looks. My now-13-year old brother used to complain all the time about how all the girls in his class are obsessed with Pew Die Pie, and subsequently Slender Man because of Pew Die Pie. My evidence is anecdotal, but that doesn’t make it less true. In the case of the Wisconsin girls, they cite and favor video game lore; they want to go to Slender Man’s mansion, which only exists in the video game. A video game made popular by Pew Die Pie.
The little girls first tried to stab their friend in a public restroom, then in the woods. Both scenes, of Slender Man catching up with you in a public restroom and in the woods, happen in the first episode of Pew Die Pie’s Slender Man video series. Is Pew Die Pie responsible for the stabbings? No, of course not.
In the case of the 13-year-old girl, her mother mentioned her daughter plays Minecraft, and the ultimate bad guy in the game is Enderman, a creepy figure the creator of Minecraft admitted to being inspired by Slender Man. Is Minecraft responsible for the stabbings? Again, no, of course not, but yet again every outlet has failed to mention the Slender Man-inspired monster in Minecraft.
The second thing wrong with all this Slender Man coverage: it glosses over the role of the community WHICH NOW INCLUDES THE PRESS in perpetuating the Slender Man myth.
Think of Slender Man as a community art project, where for years now adults, teens and tweens have been fabricating fake news articles, photographs, and even video games and comics, about Slender Man, this all-powerful, all-knowing spectre-monster with long arms (shaped like claws, or tree branches, or tentacles depending on the artist) that mind controls and kills people. When these two Wisconsin girls say they wanted to honor the Slender Man myth, to make him “real” and prove the “skeptics wrong,” it sounds more like they wanted to participate in the community by creating the most credible news article about Slender Man ever. They didn’t want to make him real by doing another photoshop, that’s already been done. So how do you make the most credible news article about Slender Man? You actually go out and make Slender Man happen in a way the news can cover.
Not only that, but these two little girls then gave their best friend the ultimate Slender Man experience by becoming Slender Man for her. It’s sick and it’s twisted, but if we are charging them as mentally fit adults we can’t say they didn’t know the line between reality and fantasy because mentally fit adults do know the line between reality and fantasy. Unless, you have two girls purposefully blurring the line between fantasy and reality in order to contribute to this online community producing Slender Man lore. Slender Man wipes memories and mind controls, remember, which is convenient for all three girls then, including the one in Ohio who say she doesn’t remember anything after trying to stab her mother.
The Wisconsin girls completely changed the meme and contributed significantly to the Slender Man community/phenomenon with their attempted murder, and by doing so in this way, have completely changed the narrative of Slender Man lore. Slender Man used to just be a fantasy. Now he is a reality. He is a reality because anyone can become a proxy for Slender Man if he or she wishes. This is evident in the stabbing of the 13-year-old girl who tried to stab her mother. Three little girls have now stabbed two people in the name of Slender Man, not in a fan fiction or in a video game, but in very, very real life. Like all things digital these days, these girls got instant feedback for it too. And not just from online.
The Verge almost got this right, when they quoted psychologist Peter Langman:
Online communities may provide stronger reinforcement than other forms of media, Langman says, because other people are providing feedback.
Any media outlet that reports on this story and fails to mention that they as an outlet are now contributing to the Slender Man myth, is laughably ignorant and dangerous. The press does not exist in a vacuum. The press cannot blame CreepyPasta and memes but not blame itself or Pew Die Pie.
In fact, the primary driver of the Slender Man myth is no longer Pew Die Pie, Minecraft, CreepyPasta, reddit, 4chan or Something Awful, but the press itself.