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The Slender Man entered the general popular consciousness in May 2014, when two young girls led a third girl into a wooded area and stabbed her. Examining the growth of the online horror phenomenon, this book introduces unique attributes of digital culture and establishes a needed framework for studies of other Internet memes and mythologies.




The introductory chapter presents some of the key issues that are considered and discussed throughout the book. Following the events of a stabbing in Waukesha, Wisconsin, where two 12-year-old girls stabbed a third 12-year-old girl in the name of the Slender Man, a moral panic arose over the character, the potential malicious intent of those who contributed to his creation, and the dangers of Internet horror communities. But this panic ignored the benefits of a larger discussion about who the Slender Man is, who made him, and why his story has significance in different ways than news media were willing to pursue.
Shira Chess, Eric Newsom

1. The Face of the Slender Man

This chapter tells the origin story of the Slender Man as he was created by Eric Knudsen (under the pseudonym “Victor Surge”) and developed by users on the humor forum Something Awful. The chapter then further describes early variations that came in the form of the web series Marble Hornets, TribeTwelve, and Everyman HYBRID. Drawing from forms unique to new media—alternate reality games, memes, viral and spreadable media—the early Slender Man stories built on the expectations of transmedia storytelling to yield something that was different from digital stories that preceded it. An examination of these formative Slender Man texts not only observes the early Slender Man mythos taking shape, but also identifies the malleability of the character as it passed through multiple creative hands.
Shira Chess, Eric Newsom

2. Here There Be Monsters

This chapter positions the Slender Man as a monster character in the genre of horror by contextualizing him through a mix of pre- and post-digital anxieties and cultural connotations: fear of blankness and the uncanny, faceless monsters of pop culture, “men in black,” patriarchal father figures, fairies and child kidnapping creatures, and selfie culture. This chapter also notes that the Slender Man was born in a similar web space and culture as the Occupy social movement and the hacktivist group Anonymous, and identifies the mutual anxieties that spurred the creation of all three.
Shira Chess, Eric Newsom

3. Open-Sourcing Horror

This chapter states that the communal construction of the Slender Man demonstrates genre negotiations in online spaces, and identifies the influence of the open-source software movement as a guiding ethos in those negotiations. Story elements and assets were openly shared, reused, modified, and debugged by the Something Awful community, with iterations being both built from and contributing to the collective story. Thus, the early mythos of the Slender Man was built not by a single author, but collectively negotiated through social action and exigency.
Shira Chess, Eric Newsom

4. The Digital Campfire

This chapter positions the Slender Man in the lineage of traditional storytelling, identifying key elements of oral folklore that the stories recall: variability that leads to shifts and changes in the story according to teller, performance that defines each telling as a mutually communicative event between teller and audience, and community that draws the parameters of each telling according to the culture and tastes of the digital campfire around which it is told. Just as in folklore, the Slender Man stories are considered in the specific contexts and milieus of the communities who tell, consume, and share them.
Shira Chess, Eric Newsom

5. The Slender Man Who Loved Me

This chapter describes stories that seem to break with the standard formula and functions of the Slender Man stories as housed on sites like Creepypasta, Slender Man-related subreddits, and Often, these are abstracted in the form of fan fiction or parody, or used to represent certain marginalized viewpoints, such as through romanticizing or eroticizing the horror character. The telling of these stories imparts to their creators new media literacies, and the perception of their legitimacy is considered in terms of the culture of the communities that created them.
Shira Chess, Eric Newsom

6. Facing the Slender Man

Previous chapters discussed Slender Man prototypes, the original telling, the propagation of the story to new spaces, and second-level stories in the form of fan fiction; this chapter begins by following that trajectory to its next destination: the mainstream. The Slender Man is presented both literally and figuratively as a form of a “tulpa,” a creature brought to life by collective thought. As forthcoming mass media efforts appropriate the Slender Man, communities respond to a more widespread sharing of the character they collectively thought into existence. In conclusion, the openly shared, collectively created, community-contextualized Slender Man phenomenon serves as a harbinger of storytelling to come.
Shira Chess, Eric Newsom


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