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In this paper I examine the media discourses surrounding the May 2014 stabbing of a 12-year-old girl in Waukesha, Wisconsin by two of her friends, supposedly to please the online legendary monster Slender Man, and several subsequent events which media outlets also attempted to link to the horror meme. I consider the implications of folkloric believability, by which I mean the interplay of belief about a tradition’s status as folklore, which in turn has important implications for the believability of the tradition’s content. I argue that an understanding of the processes through which individuals interact with and shape emergent traditions like the Slender Man mythos is relevant far beyond the confines of academia. As an exemplar of the communal processes that constitute what Robert Glenn Howard has called the vernacular web, Slender Man is a powerful symbol available for deployment in a wide range of contexts, including by media outlets interested in generating moral panics that may serve to spur ratings. Folklorists are particularly well positioned to counter these potentially damaging narratives and have done so with similar phenomena in the past; however, the continuing tendency of popular media to both sensationalize and denigrate vernacular texts such as the Slender Man mythos suggests that there is ample room for further scholarly interventions.


Contemporary Legend series 3



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