By: Gina Brandolino
I took the photo above while my partner Ellen and I were out on a hike in the north woods of Michigan a few days ago. If you know who that is in the black suit off in the distance, I bet you have seen him yourself on occasion, or wondered if you have. If not, read on at your own risk.
That man off in the woods is Slenderman. I first learned about him from my student Michael Mitchell (a.k.a. Mitch), who recommended him for the horror course. After spending a few afternoons watching Marble Hornets videos, I gave Slenderman a spot on the syllabus for Fall 2013. That class’s reaction to him was interesting. One thing I have learned teaching horror is that you will never find a story that scares everyone–and indeed, not everyone was scared of Slenderman. But a great many students were, and that fear lingered. Slenderman was a consistent recurring theme in class for the rest of the term. Students wrote blog posts about him. Months after the semester ended, I ran into a student on campus who said, “you know, I still get really freaked out that Slenderman is following me around when I walk back to my dorm alone at night.” (And this was the guy who sided with Damien in The Omen!)
This is one way horror works; someone tells us a scary story and, pretty often, it stays with us, and we pass it on. Fear is, in this way, sort of viral–this is an apt metaphor to apply to an internet-born and -bred monster like Slenderman, but it’s been explored in different contexts, too. (See, for example, the X-Files episode called “X-Cops.”) As the title of this post puts it, we inherit other people’s nightmares. It’s thanks to my student Mitch that I see Slenderman in the woods now; it’s on account of the horror class of Fall 2013 that some of my students look over their shoulders for him on their way back to their dorms late at night. And maybe because of this post, you’ll have something new that you peer into the dark or the distance hoping not to see.