As most of you likely know by now, two pre-teens attempted to kill a friend as a sacrificial offering to the mythical creature ‘slenderman,’ a clear product of internet lore. Unsurprisingly, people are immediately looking to place blame, in a sense themselves literalizing and mistaking how myths and narratives function psychologically in the first place,
Such stories have appeared often on CreepyPasta, a creative writing and microfiction site dedicated not only to horror and thriller-type stories, but also supernatural, mythological and science fiction genres as well. The goal originally was to create short, compelling, easily shareable pieces of fiction that often spread around the Web. Now the site has a vast following and serves as, among other things, a creative writing and “hivemind” outlet where stories like that of the Slenderman breed and spread. According to the criminal complaint in the recent Wisconsin stabbing case, Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier were fans of CreepyPasta.
An administrator from CreepyPasta was quick to issue a statement when the site started getting attention through Geyser and Weier’s alleged crime. In the lengthy piece, which HLN obtained Tuesday, the administrator admits they are not personal fans of the Slenderman lore, that the site encourages creativity, community and self-expression, that the site was not initially meant for young teenagers, and, most aggressively, that a site that encourages what could be seen as morbid expression is not at fault when two teenagers allegedly attempt to take another’s life.
“But if I may be so bold, I don’t believe that it’s the fault of Slenderman or horror writing in general that this happened,” the admin writes. “I remember reading scary stories and watching slasher movies when I was a child and young teenager and while they certainly gave me nightmares, they did not instill within me a desire to murder my friends. For someone to make the jump from reading a creepy story that is — at least on this website, once again, I can’t speak for all creepypasta websites — being presented as 100% fiction into actually using it as a motive to plot and murder another human being — something else has to be going on there.”
Let’s get some things clear. Slenderman is not materially real, any more than religious myths such as tales of Hanuman or Jesus Christ, and likely will never take on the cultural magnetism to live for such a time. But historic age does not change the ontology of a concept, it remains nevertheless concept, yet at the same time a kind of living apparition of our own minds, and to the extent that they influence our experience, yes, they are real. Which is so often too much for people to bear, they want something to either be “real” or “not,” without taking any time to examine what they might mean in the first place.
When we try to find meaning, we look to narratives. It’s impossible to say which will satisfy us emotionally — so that we might invest in them — and which won’t. But before anyone looks to place blame on the internet or slenderman or pasta or whatever crusade might serve their own needs, they might consider asking some obvious questions. From an earlier article on ModernMythology,
Narrative and myths plays the principal role in our lives, both from the inside out (sense- and identity-making), from the outside in (narratives place ourselves in relation to one another, conceptualizing the structure and nature of the outside world), and they are also self perpetuating (narratives as pedagogical or even mimetic device).
This cannot be emphasized enough. The entirety of our lives that don’t arise through independent natural process are story. Even those can only be understood when they’re brought into relation through narrative processes. We can agree or disagree about whether a given narrative is good or bad, accurate or not, but this is in a sense adding a layer, not cutting down to some underlying truth. This is why the metaphor I so frequently refer back to for the self is the palimpsest. We can never hope to somehow clear away or sidestep the “mythic process.”
If we have any doubt about the centrality of narrative in our extended, communal, and personal lives, one need only turn on the news or witness how, without changing ones own behavior, another may change their story from how amazing and wonderful you are to how awful and villainous. What has changed in this case except their internal narrative? The levels and dimensions of this process are quite simply endless, and try as we might to extricate ourselves, it is our investment in a particular narrative over another that defines belief.
With these two individuals we get nowhere by learning they did it to satisfy a narrative — that’s all anyone does, and we don’t oughtn’t consider it normal behavior to try to kill someone for Slenderman or Mohammed or Jesus Christ. (Again, not to draw cultural equivalency between these, but the difference is of quantity rather than kind.) So we are left as every with asking for the “why” behind the why, and without considerable direct analysis, that’s not possible. The reason we make up the stories we do around such crimes is simply to serve our own narrative need: for simplicity and simple, direct meaning.