Behind You: The Cultural Relevance of Slender Man
By Tye Van Horn
They say that Dracula is a manifestation of our culture’s fear of their own gluttony and sexual repression. The Wolf Man and Mr. Hyde is a symbol of the darker animal that we all have within ourselves. The things that scare humans the most is not necessarily the things that are alien and unknown to us a. What truly sticks with us are those that reflects our fears about ourselves and the world around them.
The newest and most perplexing fear is that of Slender Man, with other names such as the Tall Man, the Thin Man, the Operator, Tree Man, and The Pale One. A fear that seems to be sweeping the entire nation with astounding speed. There have been tales of similar manifestations of the creature that go back as far as 3100 B.C. German folklore has tales of tall skeletal creatures with limbs too long to be human. The modern concept of Slender Man as we know it was created by a photo contest on Something Awful forums, a thin entity wearing a black business suit and possessing no face or discernible features, being often out of focus and blurry. The creature is often described to have long thin tentacles that can make it easily mistakable for a tree. Photos of this unnerving being involve it standing in the background of pictures with children playing together. There also seems to be in many stories a connection with Slender Man and fire.
Since the idea of this horror figure came into being, a YouTube series called “Marble Hornets” included the Slender Man, and gained popularity at seemingly lightning speeds. The Slender Man, known as “The Operator” in the series, stalks the director of a simple short film he is making for his college project. The director’s sanity wanes as the creature manipulates the director’s technology and watches from afar. The Operator’s motives are unknown, and often it seems that he is decidedly passive for a creature so seemingly malevolent.
Throughout the series his presence causes more chaos, and the semblance of a goal seems to unveil itself.
After “Marble Hornets,” Slender Man shows up in droves of YouTube series, and even a free-to-download video game simply titled “Slender,” designed in the first person perspective to put you in the situation of someone being stalked by Slender Man. The simplicity of the game mixed with the alien passive aggressiveness of Slender Man combines to make a truly unnerving title.
One of the most horrifying aspects of Slender Man is the way he moves; that is, he doesn’t. Whenever represented visually, the being is always seen standing still, watching. When you look away though it seems he can move at speeds impossible for any physical being. He is often described as being much like a wavefunction particle in quantum mechanics, a particle of probability that exists at all points until one observes him. In that way, he appears to be one who transcends the dimension that we see him in. Other theories postulate that he exists because of the “Tulpa Effect,” where if enough people believe in him we can actually believe an entity into existence.
Which brings us back to the big question: what is it about Slender Man that makes him stick out. Why is he so scary? And what does that say about our culture as it is? If one thinks about it logically, he is just a fast tall man in a suit. He doesn’t even make an active effort to prove his own maliciousness. The answer is simple: our culture has gone full circle into fearing the unknown once again. As stated earlier, people feared themselves and what they truly were through other classic movie monsters. But Slender Man is the epitome of all that we cannot understand. In our information heavy age, one where we can have the answer to any question with a click of a mouse and even the most distant of stars no longer seem that far away. Slender Man is the representation of our own intellectual inadequacy. No matter how much we learn about the universe, there is no point where we can fully comprehend a force outside of nature so completely alien as that of Slender Man. Our reliance on overcoming fear through understanding it has left us vulnerable to fearing the unexplainable.
Scary stories and monsters tell us more about ourselves than some of the most introspective of dramas. They bring to light our weaknesses just as visibly as our strengths. If you want to learn about what makes us as a culture tick, sometimes the best place to check is in a haunted forest, through a broken camera lens, or even a simple forum photo contest.