By Cheryl Hajjar – October, 2014
In the recent wake of the two 12 year old girls from Wisconsin who tried to kill their friend to become “proxies “ of the fictious online character Slenderman, we ask ourselves, could this have been stopped? Is the internet to blame? Did the parents of the girls not pay attention to their online activities or where they not actively involved with their lives? Maybe. Or maybe not. Its hard to tell. To see the future we must look at the past history of American Horror.
Since the advent of motion picture technology it didn’t take long for 19th century filmmakers to dabble in the horror genre. Believe it or not at one time both Frankenstein and Dracula which originated in the early 1900s were pretty scary films. Psycho, an American thriller with that shower scene is etched in horror history, and Godzilla remains timeless. As the years went on and the technology got better, filmmakers and creators of horror characters consistently tried to outdo each other.
The 80s gave birth to some great villians. Who could forget the iconic Michael Meyers who no matter how many times he was shot or stabbed just wouldn’t die, or Freddie Krueger with that scissor-like hand, just slashed teenagers up when they fell asleep. Or what about Jason from Crystal Lake killing teen couples and the Scream sequel? All good horror flicks. If any of you follow me on facebook, you have seen my son dressing up in the Michael Meyers mask and scaring the holy hell out of me around the house. He has fun with it and lets face it, kids like to scare and be scared, for whatever reason I do not know but they do. I can remember as a kid watching Halloween with my Dad and loving every minute of it, and now my son is the same.
So what does Slenderman have in common with all of these timeless horror characters? They all are urban myths just created by a different form of media. That’s it. Back in 2009 a website called Creepypasta posted a contest for an artist to create a villainous character with a storyline. A man by the name of Eric Knudsen won that competition and since then the Slenderman urban legend has been going strong on websites, videogames and other online forums. One could consider Eric Knudsen an internet screenwriter, or modern day horror creator using a new medium with an old flair. A reinvented wheel.
Most kids today know who Slenderman is but they also know that he is a ficitous character. If you look back in time, certain film characters have actually inspired teenagers and young adults to act out scenes from movies. For example, the movie Scream inspired the killing of a Gina Castillo, by her own son and his cousin. Child’s Play 3 was another movie that lead to two 10 year old boys kidnapping and brutally murdering a two year old toddler in England. Nightmare on Elm Street was also acted out in 2004 by a Daniel Gonzalez going on a killing spree wearing Freddie’s famous hand knives.
What I see happening is that maybe children cannot differentiate in their minds the difference between real and fake. Murders in horror films are glamorized to some extent. In today’s internet age it is virtually impossible to monitor everything your child is watching but I think sitting your child down and explaining that these characters are fake and not real life is a start. Seeing what your child is watching on their Ipad and putting Google searches in “safe” mode is another way of minimizing. When I heard of the Slenderman murders the first thing I did was sit down with my son and discuss it. He knew that the Slenderman story was fake and not a real character contrary to what the girls from Wisconsin believed. Encouraging open discussions with your child to see if they can decipher real from fake is extremely important.
The takeaway here is this. I do not believe that the internet aided in these murders but that this was just another rare case and an extremely unfortunate episode similar to the other mimicking murders from the above mentioned. Do I feel that it is important to monitor what your kids are watching, of course I do, but I feel that it is actually more important to make sure they have a clear understanding between ficticous and real life. How do we stop the creators of these characters from marketing to our kids? We can’t. It would be virtually impossible to do that but maybe one suggestion would be to put warning labels on the websites or video games that these are ficticous stories and characters, made for entertainment purposes only. The question is, would they be willing to do that or more importantly, would it even matter?
Talk to your children, know whets going on. Be coherent in their lives and know what they are watching and are focused on but more importantly keep those lines of communication open. You never know when that one conversation could prevent another tragedy.