The ubiquitous Internet meme known as the “Slender Man” has in many ways become the stuff of legend in the annals of cyberspace. This mysterious fictional character is typically described as being a tall, thin man in a grey or black suit, with exaggerated limbs (sometimes depicted as tentacles) and an ominous presence. Perhaps the most unsettling feature of the Slender Man is his lack of clearly defined facial features; most of the time his countenance is depicted as being pale and having no eyes, nose or mouth. The Slender Man (also referred to as “Slenderman”) is often portrayed as a somewhat nebulous or otherworldly entity, having the ability to appear and disappear at will, and demonstrating no definite subjection to the physical laws that dictate size, time or space.
The Slender Man first emerged in 2006 in a forum thread on the popular Internet meme site known as Something Awful [http://www.somethingawful.com]. A forum category entitled “Create Paranormal Images” was started with the goal of manipulating photographs in order to include paranormal or unexplained phenomena. A forum user known as “Victor Surge” (real name Eric Knudsen) posted two black-and-white photographs of groups of children, but with a transposed image of the Slender Man lurking in the background in both pictures. This skillful manipulation gave the images a mysterious and somewhat disturbing quality, similar to the infamous Solway Spaceman photograph captured by Jim Templeton in 1964. After Surge supplied some suggestive text regarding the abduction of the children in the images, the photographs were essentially transformed into a fictional story, prompting a running theme for other forum users to contribute to as well. Subsequent users posted additional images and text, and as the theme increased in popularity, the myth of the Slender Man was born.
The Slender Man quickly became a viral phenomenon, spawning countless stories, images, fan art, and videos based on the character. Scores of Slenderman-themed tales began showing up on websites that feature the genre of fiction known as “creepypasta,” i.e., urban legends or stories with horror-based themes. Slender Man stories are considered to be “fakelore”, a type of fabricated folklore intended to be passed off as genuine or authentic. As the popularity of the Slenderman continued to increase, more and more Web users adapted the theme and created dozens of adaptations of not only the physical appearance of the character, but also his personality and behavioral traits as well.
Although the descriptions of the Slender Man’s traits characteristics can vary greatly, there are quite a few common factors that seem basic to his nature: He is known for being malevolent and behaving in a passive-aggressive manner, typically stalking his target and mentally torturing them until he can ultimately victimize them in some violent or bizarre manner. Further adding to his enigmatic nature is the notion that he may be an interdimensional being, being able to operate in a plane of existence that is currently unknown to humans. Many storytellers claim that the Slender Man typically dwells in forests but has teleportation abilities, and is also able to engage in time travel. Others portray Slenderman as being similar to the infamous horror film villains of the 1980s such as Jason, Freddy Krueger, or Michael Myers. No matter which particular rendering of the Slender Man you may encounter, the one consistent theme is that he is meant to incite a sense of danger and paranoia, as he is often portrayed in stories, images and videos as only a few steps away from his intended victim.
One of the most recent iterations of the Slenderman landed him in a video game known as “Slender: The Eight Pages”, a survival horror game developed by Parsec Productions and released as a free download in June of 2012. In the game, the player must collect eight pages of a manuscript from various locations in a haunted forest, all the while avoiding any dangerous encounters with the Slenderman. The game was met with a highly positive response; within only two months of its release, it had already been downloaded over two million times.
Although the Slender Man has widely been considered as somewhat of an “open source urban legend” that users can modify or adapt at will, surprisingly the character is not fully in the public domain. While Eric Knudsen (a.k.a. “Victor Surge”) is indisputably the creator of the character and has personally encouraged people to create derivative works based on the Slender Man theme, a third party is the sole owner of the option rights to any for-profit adaptations of the Slenderman, including films, videos and television shows. The option holder’s identity has not yet been revealed to the public though the most likely candidate is Something Awful LLC. Most internet sites including this one claim copyright to material posted on their site. Although any major media works featuring the Slenderman have been temporarily stifled by these legalities, one thing is certain: The Slender Man will continue to endure as one of most popular and enigmatic themes ever to surface on the Internet.