Instagram Skulls & Slenderman: Why We Need To Stop Blaming Horror for Real Life Evil
I distinctly remember the first time I was ever exposed to horror, as it was one of the earliest memories I can ever recall. I was four years old and was supposed to be taking a nap. I never slept, so I crept out of my bedroom and snuck up on my mother who was watching STEPHEN KING’S ‘IT’ on our living room television. She didn’t know I was there, but I stood there paralyzed and couldn’t look away as Pennywise taunted from the storm drain. From that moment on, I was fascinated with horror.
Growing up, my dad was a local politician and part of his duties was to run a lot of the community events; including the annual Haunted House and Haunted Hayride attraction. My father loved to scare people and he was damn good at it. People would jump out of the ground during the hayride, horrifying creatures would fall from the ceiling in the haunted house, and the end of the hayride would feature Jason Voorhees himself jumping onto the wagon and threatening all of the guests with a chainsaw. So my dad wasn’t big on continuity, but he was a damn scary Jason. I was six years old and on the ride once with a group of paying customers and even though I knew it was my dad, I freaked out so badly that he stopped the chainsaw, took off his mask, repeated “It’s Daddy, don’t cry!” picked up my crying ass, and took me off the ride. The people who were just screaming in terror were now all saying “Aww” in unison as a man in a Jason Voorhees costume took a petrified little girl off into the darkness.
As I got older, I started to find horror on my own without the aid of my parents. I’ll never forget when I managed to get my hands on the VHS copy of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. My best friend and I were out camping and we thought there would be no better way to scare our 10-year-old selves shitless than to watch the film in our parents’ camper before running into the woods in the middle of the night. Long story short, the film traumatized the hell out of me. I couldn’t get the stick figure shape out of my mind for weeks. I would close my eyes and see the stick man behind my eyelids. I couldn’t make the image go away, so I used to obsessively draw it out on any paper I could find. Homework, diner place mats, sidewalk chalk, you name it. I used to draw it on my wrist like a tattoo and tell the other kids at school that I was “cursed” just to try and scare them all. It worked, too. I quickly earned a reputation as everyone’s “weird friend.” I was the kid my classmates came to if they wanted to hear the scariest stories to tell their friends. I even got in trouble once when a student overheard me attempting to sing the Russian version of t.A.T.u.’s “All The Things She Said” because she was convinced I was secretly putting a curse on someone. Apparently for Chicago suburban junior high students, Russian = Witchcraft. I was a weird kid that loved horror, and my parents embraced every moment of it…and I never killed anyone.
(AUTHOR’S EDIT: I also grew up less than an hour away from where this incident occurred. I’ve ran around in the woods where this tragedy took place. Just to nail it home that I was very similar to these girls as a child.)
News broke today about an incident featuring two 12 year olds that stabbed one of their friends 19 times in an attempt to prove that the internet-created creature “Slenderman” was more than a myth. Word about the incident quickly spread like wildfire but recently the news headings have changed from discussing the tragedy, and instead looking for somewhere to place blame. The Daily Mail wrote a lengthy piece focusing on the parents’ Instagram account of one of the culprits, moreso on the fact the father not only embraced his daughter’s love of drawing Slenderman, but also that he was a metal head and had pictures of skulls on his account. There has been minimal discussion of the mental health of either of the two culprits and instead all of the focus has been on Slenderman, Creepypasta horror stories, and the influence of metal from their parents. Why?
Exposure to horror doth not a murderer make. If box office sales tell us anything, it’s that there are a lot of people out there that love horror. Millions of people all across the globe thirst for all things mysterious and ooky, but when a random act of violence occurs and the offender just so happens to like horror…suddenly, horror gets the brunt of all of the blame. The likelihood that someone who commits a vicious act likes horror has nothing to do with horror influencing violence, and everything to do with the fact the large majority of people enjoy horror movies whether they admit it or not. There are people starting petitions to ban Slenderman stories or Creepypasta horror tales online to “prevent another stabbing,” but this stabbing was an isolated occurrence. Where’s the social uproar to demand films to bring representation to minority groups, which has influenced the actions of entire societies? Hell, Michael Alig was up for parole in 2006 but was denied because instead of listening to him and finding out what actually happened, the parole officers allegedly had just watched the “based-on-truth-but-not-totally-accurate” film about his life, PARTY MONSTER and denied him parole because of it. Regardless of your feelings on Michael Alig, the fact that he was denied parole because people watched a fictional portrayal of his life and used that as a basis for his legal freedom is absolute nonsense.
I understand the need to quickly give answers to an angry and unforgiving public, and shifting the blame to something like a Slenderman is far easier than to go into the complexities of the developing human psyche of a twelve year old, but that doesn’t make it the right thing to do. These girls truly believed that Slenderman, a monster that was created on an online forum as an attempt to generate modern folklore (a la Bigfoot or The Loch Ness Monster) was real. The fact that these two 12-year-olds really believed that some fake creature they read about on the Internet was an actual entity says more about their mental state than it does about the creature. These girls didn’t have a grasp on reality, and blaming something that doesn’t even exist for their actions is ridiculous. On paper, I was just like them at that age. I wore skull sweaters, I drew creepy pictures, I read a ton of horror literature, and yet I was a very happy child. The only difference, I never felt compelled to murder my friend. We can like all of the same things, but the difference between myself at age 12 and these girls, is that I understood the difference between reality and fantasy, and they didn’t. I empathize with people trying to understand a situation like this and I understand how easy it would be to point a finger to horror, but just because it’s the easiest thing to point at doesn’t mean it’s the right thing. Slenderman didn’t attempt to stab a child, two very disturbed little girls did. Instead of focusing anger and judgement towards an imaginary creature, we should do everything we can to better understand how two little girls could completely lose all sense of reality, and commit such a heinous act. Dismissing horror as the responsible party is just going to continue to perpetuate the American stigma towards mental health, and keep us from preventing more tragedies.