Expert says 'The Slender Man' blurs lines between fiction and re - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Expert says 'The Slender Man' blurs lines between fiction and reality

Posted: Updated: Jun 03, 2014 10:52 PM
MADISON (WKOW) -- "The Slender Man" is a popular, fictional character created in 2009.

According to Andrew Peck, a PhD candidate at the UW School of Communication Arts, the Slender Man was created when two pictures were posted to a website dubbed somethingawful.com.

Peck, who studies digital folklore, said both pictures depicted a shadowy, lanky figure in the background. He said the topic of the online, discussion board to which they were posted was devoted to developing new, fictional, paranormal characters.

Peck said the Slender Man has become popular with the "teen to 30 generation" online. Peck said much of the character's appeal is that fans of the Slender Man can use him to tell their own, scary stories.

Peck called the Slender Man a "public resource."

"His ability to be this malleable, story telling resource really accounts for a lot of the Slender Man's popularity," Peck said.

"It's like you're telling a story around a camp fire, except this is online," Peck said.

Peck said the Slender Man's appearance changes from story to story. But fans of the Slender Man believe he always possesses some basic characteristics.

"We know he's malicious, we know something bad is going to happen wherever he goes," Peck said.

"The character is faceless and operates in the background of things," he said. "Being around him tends to drive people mad and drive people to kill."

"That's perhaps another really upsetting element of what happened," Peck said, in reference to the case of two, Waukesha 12-year old girls allegedly stabbing a friend in order to prove themselves to the Slender Man.

Peck said most incidents of a fictional character inspiring people to action, as is alleged in the Waukesha stabbing, are non-violent. Peck cited people going on trips to look for fictional creatures like Big Foot or The Loch Ness Monster.

But Dr. Joanne Cantor, an expert on media and children, said kids are often eager to imitate characters seen online or on TV.

"Young children can be more susceptible than older people, just because they don't have the life experience and they don't have the cognitive development to put things together," Cantor said. 

Peck said previous "sightings" of the Slender Man have occurred in objects like wood carvings. But he said the most popular Slender Man stories involve him popping up in old photos like newspaper clippings. Peck said that's because fans of the Slender Man like the character's ability to blur the lines between fiction and reality.

"It's the same thing you do when you're sitting around a campfire," Peck said. "Even if you know there's no guy with a hook for a hand lurking in the woods, you suspend that disbelief."

"You listen to the story like it's true and you put yourself into it," Peck said.

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