The Slender Man is the internet's monster - the subject of countless remixes, tributes, and parodies. He's so ubiquitous he feels like he's been around for ages, like folklore. But Slender Man has an owner and a point of origin. Alex talks to Eric Knudsen, the creator of Slender Man.
GEORGE NOORY: From the city of angels off the Pacific Ocean - good morning, good evening, wherever you may be across the nation, around the world. I’m George Noory, welcome to Coast to Coast AM. [fade]
ALEX GOLDMAN: George Noory hosts a late night show called Coast to Coast that you might have already heard of. If not, all you need to know is that people call in to talk about the paranormal. Monsters. The famous ones, like aliens and the devil, and the more obscure ones, like chupacabras and shadow people. Noory’s heard about most of them. But on November 6th, 2009, people started calling in about a new kind of monster.
CALLER: Have you ever heard of the Slender Man?
GEORGE NOORY: The Slender Man? No I have Not.
CALLER: he’s very thin, and he wears a black suit. He has very long limbs, his arms stretch.
GEORGE NOORY: But he looks human?
CALLER: Humanoid, I’d say.
GEORGE NOORY: is he evil?
CALLER: Uh.. not sure. He’s known as wanting to kidnap children, and I’ve found this information on the internet.
ALEX GOLDMAN: The Slender Man is the internet’s monster. Do a Google image search, and you’ll find the pictures. Legions of them. Children looking at the camera, oblivious to a tall, thin, faceless man in a black suit and tie standing in the back of the frame, between the trees. Captions that tell a tragic but vague story - kids dead or vanished, buildings burnt to the ground.
CALLER: I heard the caller talk about the Slender Man
GEORGE NOORY: The Slender Man, have you heard anything about this thing?
CALLER: He’s kind of been a big buzz on the internet lately, and there’s these videos on YouTube - apparently he’s stalking the director of the videos.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Marble Hornets is a YouTube series, now in its fifth year...
TIM: There’s somebody out there right now that’s an immediate threat to both of us!
JAY: Somebody that’s probably watching us right now, now that you mention it.
ALEX GOLDMAN: It’s sort of like a video diary - a college student making a short film starts seeing a Slender Man like figure called the operator skulking in the background of his shots, and it only gets creepier from there. It has since spawned numerous imitators.
WOMAN: What is that! What is that!
ALEX GOLDMAN: Slender Man also stars in a couple of video games which are so scary that YouTube users delight in filming their own terrified reactions to the game.
PLAYER: Oh, wha oh my god, what the hell was that?! Run run run run I don’t like it. Get out of there. Ah!
ALEX GOLDMAN: Slender Man is different in every appearance. Sometimes he has tentacles or a maniacal laugh. He can be anywhere between 6 and 15 feet tall. Sometimes his presence is a harbinger of disaster to come, other times he’s impaling children on trees and removing people’s organs. This kind of versioning naturally happens when the internet collectively invents something. But actually, the Slender Man isn’t something the hive mind created. He’s one guy’s idea.
ERIC KNUDSEN: Hi, my name is Eric Knudson, also known as Victor Surge on the internet, and I’m the creator of Slender Man.
ALEX GOLDMAN: Like pretty much every story you hear about someone who is deeply into the macabre, he’s about the sweetest person you’ll ever meet.
ERIC KNUDSEN: I’m a 33 year old male, married, I have a 20 month old toddler. I’m actually looking to become a schoolteacher.
ALEX GOLDMAN: In June of 2009, Eric posted the first images of Slender man in a thread called “create paranormal images” on the website Something Awful.
ALEX GOLDMAN: When you created this character you just figured it was gonna be like a laugh between you and Something Awful, something that didn’t get beyond that particular thread?
ERIC KNUDSEN: Absolutely, I mean, some people had joked in the thread that wouldn’t it be funny if some of these ended up on paranormal websites or someone said oh these pictures look real, they must be real, they’re ghosts or creatures or whatever. But i don't think anybody expected it to happen.
ALEX GOLDMAN: The images were so powerful that soon, almost everyone in the thread was just posting images of the Slender Man. Eric’s monster quickly outgrew the Something Awful forums and started to show up on the rest of the internet. But whatever the internet’s imagination thinks Slender Man is - no matter how many times he’s remixed and spliced with other legends - Eric believes The Slender Man has an immutable and specific set of characteristics, and always has since the beginning.
ERIC KNUDSEN: The way I see the slender man is that his body can morph. If he wants to look like a tall, more conventional looking guy, that’s what he’ll look like. Like if you’re just kind of glancing, sideways glancing at him, or not really paying attention to what it is, it will look like a normal person to a certain degree. But if you keep looking at it and keep digging and keep searching, it’s going to start getting worse and worse for you. it’ll probably just drive you insane. Or you disappear or you get killed or whatever. I liked concept of monster or a creature that causes general unease or terror. It’s methods are strange, it’s motives are completely inscrutable and incomprehensible. So what is it doing, why is it here, is it taking people?
ALEX GOLDMAN:: Does it bother you at all that the internet seems to have honed in on this thing and wanted to take it apart and put it back together, and make it its own thing?
ERIC KNUDSEN: You know, a little bit, it does a little bit, I feel like less of a creator, and more of an admin in a lot of respects or a manager, I feel like I’m Slender Man’s manager, and he’s out there doing his thing and I need to kind of just watch him and take care of him. I find it being my one shot as a creator in my life, and I don’t necessarily just want to give that up.
ALEX GOLDMAN: The problem for Eric is that the corpus of Slender Man material is now so rich that people don’t believe Slender Man originated with Eric at all.
ERIC KNUDSEN: A lot of people say that “oh, look, Slender Man existed prior to June 10 of 2009 here’s old german folklore, here are these old woodcuttings, these pictures, these stories.” and interestingly enough, a lot of that stuff is fiction created post creation of SM, so it’s a double edged sword, as an urban legend, we seek to obscure it’s own past to make it seem more real but that also makes it seem like it’s something that’s always been there rather than something that was fairly recently created.
ALEX GOLDMAN: So it’s like fake historical references to this character that people assume are real and assume that that means that it’s part of this public domain tradition?
ERIC KNUDSEN: It’s basically like a Google powered confirmation bias, you know? Certain people just don’t want to believe that it’s fiction and it’s much scarier that way. If it’s something that’s real or could be real, it’s obviously much more frightening.
ALEX GOLDMAN: In January of 2010, Eric registered a copyright on the name “Slender Man,” which doesn’t stop fans from making their own work, it just stops them from being able to make a profit on it without his blessing. Although Eric’s working with a production company to develop a number of different properties based on the character, it’s worth saying that talking to Eric, you really do not get the sense that his desire for control is about money.
ERIC KNUDSEN: if there’s going to be a commercial exploitation of the character, I just don’t want it to be lame. [laughs] like a manager who wants their clients to get in to the good movies. I just want something amazing to come of it.
ALEX GOLDMAN: You don’t want him doing ads for pizza rolls or anything like that?
ERIC KNUDSEN: No. No pizza rolls. Something that’s scary and disturbing and kinda different. I’d hate for something to come out and just be kind of conventional. And I will do my best to make sure that doesn’t happen, but of course at this point … I have some say. And hopefully enough say to make sure nothing’s lame [laughs].
ALEX GOLDMAN: In a way, Eric’s in a situation he can’t win. Every time the Slender Man appears in a forged historical document or a faux documentary photo, he becomes realer and scarier. And Eric disappears just a little bit more. So like any parent, he has to strike a balance -- between looking out for his little monster and letting it go free in the world to murder children.
GEORGE NOORY: But this is growing on the internet, so it should be easy to find, huh?
CALLER: yeah, yeah it’ll be really easy to find. Just type in Slender Man.
GEORGE NOORY: OK, we’ll check it out. That could be a good story. Slender Man. That is weird. Slender Man.
TLDR was producer by the Stinky Pete and me, Alex Goldman. Our executive producer is Kat Rogers. Our engineer is Sir Andrew Dunn. We had more help from Kimmie Regler. Our theme song is by the Mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder. You can read our blog and listen to our show at TLDR.onthemedia.org. We tweet @ TLDR. We are TLDR.