Okay, so yeah, I know that I’ve been gone for a while. Real life has intruded (and in a severe way just recently). But something happened recently that’s so bizarre, so surreal, that it’s prompted me to come out of hiding. And it all started on Facebook.
Have you noticed that, with one of the latest updates to Facebook, they’ve added a “Trending” newsfeed? It’s a short list of the top stories that’s setting Facebook abuzzing. I usually ignore it, but every now and then, I’ll spot something that catches my attention. So you can imagine my surprise when I spotted a familiar name in the feed.
That name was “Slenderman.”
Are you familiar with the Slenderman? I wasn’t until a few years ago. I would visit a website dedicated to various memes and I kept spotting this weird guy in some of the jokes relating to videogames. So, ironically, I Googled “slender man” and I learned about who this rather odd fellow was. And I’ll admit, I got a little obsessed. I started watching Marble Hornets and Tribe Twelve, two YouTube shows that feature Slenderman as a villain (just a warning: those aren’t Christian videos, so be warned of language and violence). I found the best video out there, a short movie called Proxy (again, not for the squeamish). I discovered that someone had made a video game revolving around Slenderman and I wound up in a sort of merry war with a friend of mine, challenging each other to videotape ourselves playing it. You can check out one such video here (just a few jump scares in this one):
I even went so far as to write my own little horror movie about Slenderman.
So again, I had to wonder, why was Slenderman trending on Facebook?
I was stunned. What a horrific tragedy! But I wasn’t surprised when I how some of my friends reacted to this story: ban the Slenderman! Shut down the website where the girls first read about him! He’s a demon! He’s responsible for their actions!
And I have to say, that reaction got me a little peeved.
Look, I’m not trying to downplay what these girls did. It’s horrible, mind-boggling, a horror story come to life. But at the same time, let’s not overreact. Slenderman, after all, is a fictional character. He’s not real. These girls did something horrific, but it’s pretty clear to me that the responsibility for what happened should rest on them and, to a certain extent, on their parents. It’s clear that at least one or both of these girls were disturbed. Slenderman provided a trigger for that disturbed nature to express itself. But let’s be honest: if it wasn’t Slenderman, it would have been something else.
Besides, to blame Slenderman for what happened allows the perpetrators of this heinous act to duck their responsibility. Seriously. It’s a ridiculous argument. Should Jodie Foster have gone to prison because she “inspired” John Hinckley, Jr., to shoot President Reagan? Should Heath Ledger retroactively have his Oscar taken away from him because of James Holmes’s actions?
But then, human beings have always tried to blame other people for their sins, even from the beginning.
Take a look at what happened in the Garden of Eden. Satan, in the guise of the serpent, approaches Adam and Eve and, after a short conversation with the latter, convinces her to take a bite. Adam, who apparently was standing right there at the time, also indulges. They realize they’ve done wrong and, when God confronts Adam about it, notice what Adam says:
“The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”
Do you notice? “It’s not my fault, God! It’s her fault and really, it’s Your fault too for giving her to me in the first place!” Adam tries to pass the buck.
And then Eve does the same thing! She pins the blame on the serpent, saying that he tricked her and she ate.
To some extent, that’s true. Satan did use his crafty wiles and fast talking to get the fruit into Adam and Eve’s hands. But here’s the amazing thing: God doesn’t let them off the hook for what they did. They had to bear responsibility for what they did regardless of what may have inspired them.
Now, having said all that, I do believe that the girls’ obsession with Slenderman was a contributing factor, but to say that it was the only reason is ridiculous. This is how human beings tend to react in the wake of inexplicable violence. If there’s some factor that people don’t understand, that usually gets the blame. We oversimplify the narrative and say that X is the sole cause of Y, when the reality is really that while X may have been a contributing factor, Q, R, S, T, U, V, and W played a part too. And let’s not forget that parents bear a responsibility for monitoring what their children are up to an interested in.
But in the wake of a tragedy like this one, let’s be careful with the over-generalizing, pious hand-wringing, okay?