I was listening to back episodes of MonsterTalk the other week, and I got into their episode on Slenderman. (If you don't listen, by the way, I recommend it. A good show that's sometimes a little bit dry, but always interesting. Plus, they've got one of the better themes out there.) (Another aside: if you're into excellent podcast theme music, which is an incredibly specific subgenre, check out Flip the Table. Now that's a theme.)
It's an excellent episode that deconstructs the history of Slenderman as a phenomenon and its bizarre evolution from an Internet meme to a piece of folklore to a really tragic and frustrating tabloid piece. This naturally invites plenty of fascinating questions about belief and the human instinct to assign reality to those stories that resonate most deeply with us.
But for some reason, my gut reaction was just to scoff and go, "Pshaw. I was there when Slenderman was invented. I liked it before it was popular."
I've been a lurker (and infrequent goon) on the SA Forums for far longer than I care to admit. I remember the Paranormal Images thread that created Slenderman when it was new. And I remember thinking, "Wow, Slenderman is kinda creepy. I wonder if somebody's going to write a short story about that? Oh, well, let's see if that Sarah Palin Photoshop thread is still going on."
The fact that Slenderman then transformed into this runaway train of bizarre speculation and Internet popularity has always rubbed me the wrong way. The world took something that should have just been an inside joke for a bunch of fat guys at their computers and bastardized it into an urban legend. And once it spread, it became something that everybody "owned." You were no longer just hearing it, you were a part of it, a piece of a larger cultural puzzle.
What makes me laugh about it now is the thought of where Slenderman will be in twenty years, or fifty, or a hundred. Has Slenderman etched itself so permanently in our collective imaginations that he will one day be as common a horror movie trope as vampires and zombies? Will there be a slew of crappy SyFy Slenderman movies - or whatever the hell it is that's going to come along and replace movies some day?
Can the mythology evolve to the point at which it has taken on a level of religious zeal, where there are believers who refuse to accept that there is explicit proof of Slenderman's creation and its status as a work of fiction?
And if that day ever comes, will I still be sneering at those believers and getting cranky?
Was there a guy like me back when Jesus was first preaching? Did Jeff the Neighbor ever hear somebody at the market say, "Gee, did you hear Jesus's sermon about the meek?" And did Jeff the Neighbor get up his own ass and fold his arms and go, "Pshaw, I remember growing up with Jesus. He's just this guy, you know?" And when Jesus was crucified and everybody was freaking out and praying to him as their new God, was Jeff the one asshole in the background rolling his eyes and saying, "C'mon, guys, he's not that awesome?"
And if there was, does that mean I'm in the wrong? I don't really want to go down in history as being a Jeff. But I'm pretty damn sure I don't want to go down in history as being the asshole who stabbed a 12 year-old girl in the woods because I misunderstood how Photoshop threads work.
Anyway. Jesus, Slenderman, and all the rest, I salute you for your masterful storytelling. I can only hope to one day create something as striking and memorable.