With Jessica Balanzategui. Abstract:
In May 2014 in Wisconsin, two 12 year old girls led another girl, also 12, into the woods and stabbed her 19 times. The children claimed that they were driven to attack the girl by the Slender Man, a character nebulously developed across various internet sites, whose polyphonic, centerless mythology has been collated on the urban legend and scary story website creepypasta.com. While the victim survived, the crime sparked a moral panic about this fictional character’s insidious influence over the tween girls. The media reportage expressed deep-seated cultural anxieties about the female tween’s potential to disturb ontological boundaries: the girls’ association with the mysterious Slender Man mediated and amplified anxieties about their shadowy existence in the liminal spaces between temporal, legal, spatial and technological borders.
This paper will explore the liminalities and monstrosities of tween girlhood and the Slender Man while showing how they are intertwined, as articulated in the folkloric spaces of Internet storytelling and sensationalist journalism. The Slender Man operates primarily as a liminal figure: faceless; collaboratively created; defying media and linear temporality in his collection of texts. His ability to slip into ‘real’ media and spaces is exemplified by his characterisation as an agent in the reportage of the murder. The construction by journalists of the Slender Man as a mysterious predatory figure, made real by a real tragic event, helps us situate him in contemporary transmedia folklore.
Drawing from Foucault’s charting of the historical shift from ‘madness’ as supernaturally-charged force to ‘mental illness’ as disempowered pathology, we suggest that reportage of the tween girls ‘possession’ by the Slender Man figure displays a retrogression to a spiritually charged construction of madness. Such temporal regression to earlier modes of thought also suffuses the Slender Man himself, whose mythology retroactively expands itself beyond its ‘real’ origins, establishing an uncanny hybridity between folklore and ‘fakelore.’ To discuss how the temporal dissonance of the Slender Man amplifies anxieties surrounding the tween girl’s disruptive liminal power, we reference Marina Warner’s discussion of the bogeyman. Warner suggests that the bogeyman mediates tensions underlying the adult-child relationship: we will show how, as modern bogeyman, Slender Man refracts the abject power of the tween girl and articulates the quivering power of the threshold, and all that is betwixt and between.