Managing a Monster

Friday, June 13, 2014


Slender Man, the fictional online horror meme, has been much discussed in cable news lately, cited as the motive behind two violent attacks. But the genesis of the Slender Man was far from sinister. Back in January OTM producer and TLDR co-host Alex Goldman talked to Slender Man's creator, Eric Knudsen, Programming note: A longer version of this story originally appeared on TLDR -- OTM's new blog and podcast



Erik Knudsen


Alex Goldman

Comments [1]


This is the second time I've heard On The Media broadcast this story, in which they appear to accept without question or any independent research Eric Knudsen's claim to have created the Slender Man myth.

It's disappointing to hear something reported, to which without any special knowledge, I can immediately think of an earlier example that contradicts Knudsen's claim to originality.

In this case, when I first heard this story from On The Media, I immediately thought, that sounds a lot like an expisode of the X-Files I saw long ago, in which the antangonist Eugene Tooms is a slender man capable of stretching his limbs and slipping through inhumanly narrow spaces. He feasts on the livers of humans and has a quiet manner that inspires general unease and horror.

This character appears in no less than the third episode of the X-Files, "Squeeze," and is the first non-alien, human based monster figure in the show, inaugurating that aspect of the X-Files recurring themes. The Eugene Tooms character is reprised in the twenty-first episode, "Tooms," still in the first season of the show.

The character is not identical to the Slender Man myth, but close enough that it hardly makes Slender Man seem like an original idea that Knudsen can claim to have created.

These episodes aired in 1993 and 1994, a full sixteen years before Knudsen claims to have created the Slender Man character. The espisodes, obviously, cannot be dismissed as fake historical precursors invented by the internet, as Knudsen glibly does in his interview.

I have to wonder, if I can easily contradict Knudsen's claims off the top of my head, what a scholar in the area of monster tales or mythology might say. I would not be surprised if there are many precurors to the Slender Man idea and that it's originality on Knudsen's part is extremely suspect. Knudsen may be sincere in his belief that he created this idea, but that hardly makes him right.

It seems On The Media could not be bothered to research this for themselves and ask a few scholars qualified to answer the question. Instead, Knudsen asserts that all such supposed historic examples are inventions of the internet and On The Media accepts his assertion, apparently based solely on his authority (which is nothing other than being some guy who writes stuff in online forums--making Knudsen exactly the sort of internet source that he himself has just dismissed).

This is very disappointing (non)reporting from On The Media.

On The Media would do well, as a cautionary tale, to read literary critic and Duke University Professor Barbara Herrnstein Smith's well known article about looking for the original version of the Cinderalla story, "Narrative Versions, Narrative Theories" (1980). Smith shows that claims to narrative originality are usually specious and the more one looks for the original version of a certain type of story the more examples tend to proliferate and branch out into the past, not lead to a single moment of creation.

Jul. 19 2014 07:46 PM

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