Marquel, TPVs NYTimes threatening pop culture figures correspondent became flustered when he read: Milwaukee Suburb Tries to Cope With Girls Stabbing, because he knows a Milwaukee gal who could have been one of the attackers, had she been born 2.5 decades later.
An attack on a 12-year-old, brought on, perhaps, by an obsession with the fictional Internet figure Slender Man, has forced an urgent self-examination in Waukesha, Wis.
First of all, Slendy is innocent. That is completely obvious from the circumstances. He works alone, doesn’t hire 11 year old girls to kill a 12 year old. And his goal is usually not to kill but to scare. He might kidnap a girl or two, but only to give them the shivers, not to end their lives. Often they will disappear but we really don’t know what happens to them unless they return with Slender Sickness. But it seems in this little town in Wisconsin two girls, one 11, the other just 12, lured another girl who, as she said, trusted them into a woods and stabbed her a couple dozen times. The girl came crawling out of the woods an inch from death, an act of heroism that Slendy‘s most fantastic feats could not challenge. So how did Slendy get involved in the first place?
It seems that in places like Wisconsin, kids do a lot of reading, most of it on the internet, and most of it trash. I don’t mean to call Slendy trash, only in the sense of literary worth that might put him further down the hierarchy of reading lists for 11 year olds that might start with a little mild Shakespeare, then some Dickens, the Bronte sisters, and perhaps Jane Austen. Then you see Slendy standing behind them all, threatening mayhem. Marquel never thought much about it but the South is not limited to the South. It’s mostly anywhere west of the Hudson where people act strangely.
That’s because, Marquel thought, they don’t read like you and me. That sounds like Fitzgerald, who might also go on an advanced 11 year old’s reading list, certainly above Slendy. In any event, these two girls who did the attempted murder claim that they were trying to prove themselves to Slendy so that he would accept them as equals, or something like that. They also claimed he lived nearby when everybody knows, including every resident of North Korea about whom I learned this fact from a little trip I took there recently, that Slendy lives not in Wisconsin, but either in New Jersey, Germany, or nowhere at all.
So Marquel went to Wisconsin and asked around. People no longer want to send their kids on playdates, even though this was not a playdate. They don’t know how to choose theier children’s friends, as if that’s a good idea in the first place, because who knows if the kid will turn out to be a Slendy Sympathizer?
I walked down the street of this sleepy Wisconsin town and went into the nearest diner. I listened a lot and most of the talk was of the girls, with only the most occasional reference to Slendy (although they all seemed to maintain a formal relationship with him, never calling him Slendy, only Slender Man).
Finally, I broke in on a foursome complaining that they didn’t know what to do.
Pardon, I’m just passing through, I said, but I heard about the tragedy. What are you thinking of doing as parents?
They were most inviting and took my intrusion not as such but as friendliness. Hmmm, I thought, maybe these people are just a bit too trusting.
Well, said one, this was entirely unexpected. You could never have predicted it, never understand it, and so we’re at a loss.
I’m not sure what you mean, I said. You mean since it’s so unpredictable you couldn’t know which friends might go off the rails and which won’t?
Exactly, he answered. You look at a kid and he or she seems normal, but who’s to know? These kids were entirely normal. Except for the weird one.
There was a weird one? I asked.
Yes, one of the girls, the older one, was always a little strange, into black arts and things like that.
Well, there you go, I said, doesn’t that help?
Not really, he said, because the other girl was so lovely and normal that who could predict she might go astray?
I wouldn’t call killing a fellow 11 year old going astray, I said.
No, that was a bad choice of words. But anything else sounds terribly harsh. he said.
As harsh as stabbing a lovely little 11 year old girl two dozen times? I asked.
You’re right, he said, we are kind of dancing around the subject. he said.
That’s what’s puzzling me, I said. What exactly is the subject? It was so unpredictable, you might conclude it is a one off event that God Himself could not have foreseen, and it’s one of those things in life you simply live with. The unknown. The unpredictable. The unknowable.
All four nodded their heads as if I were a prophet.
But what about Slender Man? I asked. What role did he play?
He was certainly involved, said a mother-aged woman. How do you handle that?
Maybe by watching what they’re reading, I suggested. Maybe a little spying on their Internet use, a bit of surreptitious logging that’s easy to set up.
A third said, That sounds awful intrusive and untrusting, We’ve been told to monitor their use but not to spy on them.
I’d suggest spying on them, I said. It’s much more effective. Why would they be reading about Slendy in the first place? Eleven is a bit young. It’s for fourteen year olds.
You might be right. said one of them.
Do they have good reading in school? I asked. I mean, Bronte, Dickens, Austen, Firtzgerald?
Actually, they don’t read the classics. Their reading this year was The Giver, a huge New York Times winner, but all fantasy. said one. I wasn’t crazy about it.
So they’re reading fantasy novels instead of Dickens, Slender Man, instead of Leave it to Beaver, and you wonder whether they might not turn out like you and I have? I asked, a bit aggressively.
Boy, said the first, you’re actually right. I wasn’t crazy about this switch. But the entire school system, and schooling generally, has made great efforts to use ‘relevant’ materials. And since they’re all into fantasy, they decided to drop the classics and give them ‘modern classics’ they will find more relevant.
So if they’re into murder and mayhem, books about that would be relevant? I asked.
I guess so, sad to say, said one.
I left the diner and returned to New York wondering about what we are doing to our kids. We’ve lost all faith and trust, and our bearings, in tradition, classics, and the basics. I don’t even know what relevant means. Truly. Something that kids are willing to read without a bit of persuasion and moral force? I fear we’ve really lost it.
But Slendy really is innocent. Slendy didn’t cause this to happen. But maybe the parents who let their kids get just a little too familiar with Slendy ought to have acted differently. Slendy isn’t like you and me. Nor like Dickens or Bronte or Fitzgerald.
To be honest, something I hate to be, he’s really just trash.
BY MARQUEL: The Gift of the Giver: Slender Man