Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Why it's a Slender line between fun and horrifying reality

Faceless terror: Slender Man has hooked internet users

Slender Man – a new bogeyman for our times. Slender Man, in case you haven't heard of him, is an internet creation. A sort of dark, digital fairytale character. He was spawned in 2009, after a website called on users to submit their 'paranormal pictures'. One respondent Photoshopped a pic of a creepy, elongated figure into an ordinary, everyday park scene.

Slender Man has, as the name suggests, no obesity issues. Thin, lanky, he's something of the build of Peter Crouch, only with even longer legs. And he doesn't have a face. In some images it's blurred – a bit like one of those police photofit images where the witness was unable to provide details of facial features.

In others, his face is covered with white gauze, not unlike old 1930s film images of another fictional character, The Invisible Man.

Despite his fairly recent creation and his lack of facial expression (so much for the importance of eye-contact in making an impression on others), the online popularity of Slender Man has spiralled.

It's all a bit of harmless fun. Or would be, except that some young fans appear to have confused fiction with reality.

In Wisconsin, two 12-year-old girls are currently on trial accused of the attempted murder of a third 12-year-old, after they allegedly stabbed her 19 times. The girls are said to have claim they carried out the attack as a tribute to Slender Man.

In another case, a 13-year-old girl is alleged to have stabbed her mother, again because she believed she was carrying out the thin one's wishes.

These children – for that is what they are, despite the fact that the Wisconsin pair have, shamefully, appeared before an adult court – have very obviously blurred the line between what's real and what's not.

This is hardly surprising given their youth. What is surprising – and disturbing – is that at an age when their peers are idolising boy bands or sports stars, these children and presumably others like them, have become fixated with eerie online illusion.

Slender Man is a different direction from One Direction. But with his now detailed back story and his cleverly created 'photographs', he must seem so real to the young and impressionable. And not just to the young either. He also gets a mention in another US news horror story.

It's reported that one of a couple of killers who gunned down two Las Vegas police officers and a woman passer-by, before shooting themselves, had previously posted online pics of himself dressed as Slender Man.

The creator of the original, innocuous Slender Man pic is understandably distraught by events.

So who do we blame? The parents? Why were those young children on horror websites in the first place? Or is it all the fault of wider society?

Writing in the Chicago Tribune, one commentator condemns "a culture that has fallen in love with magic and fantasy. It is a culture that takes fantasy symbols of evil – the vampire, the witch – and transforms them into heroes of great virtue. It is a culture where dark magic is celebrated, but religion is considered bothersome. We reap what we sow".

You don't have to be a fan of religion (I'm not) to see that exposing children and the immature to 'fantasy symbols of evil' has its dangers. But then again, this is hardly something new. Fairytales have been with us since long before the first wicked witch stepped astride her Grimm broomstick.

What is new is increasingly realistic online depictions where characters are 'photographed', their 'personalities' built, their story cemented by chatroom sharing to the point where they are no less real than any other on-screen celeb of the age. If adults are drawn in, think how much more this must affect children.

In an online world where hype and hysteria meet, it is 21st Century fairytale – but without the stabilising ending of good triumphing over evil.

The headlines Slender Man is currently attracting will only feed the myth.

I doubt we've heard the last of him.

 

How dignity became a casualty of war

Amid the dignity, spectacle and poignancy of the 70th anniversary commemorations of D-Day, two things grated.

One was the infantile, smug snubbing of Vladimir Putin. Whatever we think of Putin himself, he was there to represent the Russian people who died in their tens of millions in the Second World War and whose contribution to the defeat of Hitler was vital.

More trivial, granted, but also annoying was Dave and Samantha Cameron arriving for the event, hand-holding like a couple of teenagers at the high school prom.

Can you imagine, say, Angela Merkel getting on like this? Grow up Dave.

Grow up, the lot of you.

 

Keep serial-killer drugs top of hit list

A clearly angry and dismayed coroner compares drugs — in particular so-called legal highs — to a serial killer stalking the land.

It's a graphic description that understandably grabs headlines. For a day or two.

Twenty deaths have been linked to one substance used in unregulated drugs. So many young lives lost, each one a tragedy.

What is being done about this? The PSNI's efforts in the war against drugs have been impressive. But how do you stop substances sold slyly yet legally as “not for human consumption”? How do you warn other potential victims? We need to find answers.

We could start by giving our serial-killer drugs crisis the attention it merits.

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