Typically DWH is a place where we try to keep things on the lighter side. Poke fun at the idiosyncrasies of our personal husbandy ways and foolish fatherhoodness. With the tragic events of the past few days, my mind is steering me down a different path refusing to let go of those little girls in Wisconsin.
Whenever something horrible happens, we want to know why. We want to understand it with the hopes of possibly preventing it from repeating. That search for comprehension typically directs society to a scape goat. We throw all the blame on heavy metal music, rap lyrics, violence on television, video games and now a meme created on the internet only a few short years ago.
The Slenderman is indeed terrifying. The character strums his nightmare strings with a deft skill to rival that of Bela Lugosi’s monsters from our grandparent’s generation. He is unexplainable, relentless and haunts the most vulnerable of us. Our children. Is it any wonder that voices of the frightened are rising in choruses of anger and blame?
Just as Heavy Metal music did not pull the triggers at Columbine and Grand Theft Auto didn’t rampage the hallways of Sandy Hook, Slenderman did not brandish the knives in those lonely Wisconsin woods. These might have been influences on the perpetrators of said horrible incidents, but I refuse to believe they were the sole cause.
As a parent, I am protective of my children. Possibly a bit over so. I struggle to keep frightening news stories like this away from them whenever possible. I certainly won’t allow my son to read any of my books yet. Unfortunately violence is rearing its ugly head more often in schools around the country with terrifying frequency. It’s a subject I know we will have to discuss sooner rather than later.
What should I tell them? Slenderman is scary. I write scary stories. Are the monsters in my books going to make people kill each other too? How do I answer that question? Can I justify the stories I write?
Not only do I believe I can, I must.
Humankind needs folklore and things that go bump in the night. Our ghosts and monsters teach valuable lessons and have done so for centuries. Since the first cavemen sat around fires in their cave telling tales of horrible beasts, we have learned to protect ourselves. The dark is frightening for a reason. We don’t know what’s out there and nothing is more horrifying than the unknown.
As history has demonstrated time and time again, the dark unknown often resides not only in childhood nightmares behind closet doors or in dark woods after sundown, but inside of regular people. Serial killers, mass murderers, rapists, heads of state and even grade school children. Aren’t they always described by neighbors as “quiet” and “friendly”? “We would never have guessed he would be capable of something like this.”
Our society does not enjoy facing the fact that evil can rear it’s distorted gaze through such beautiful human eyes. We would much rather pass the blame to Jason Vorhees, Marilyn Manson or Slenderman. After all, isn’t it so much easier to accept the face of evil as that of a monster behind a bloody hockey mask wielding a rusty machete?
Werewolves, vampires and zombies have nothing on us human beings. We are the monsters that lurk in the shadows. We are the bump in the night. Our ancestors created fairy tales to put faces on the evil for children to learn to protect themselves. We decorate instinct with names and sharp teeth to be feared while the grown ups are away on the hunt.
In our modern society, we don’t need to forage in the woods or throw spears into the herd for dinner. Our hunting grounds are office cubicles, supermarkets and McDonald’s. We still need to be afraid of monsters though. Strangers on the internet and followers of the Anarchist’s Cookbook just to name a few.
I don’t suggest a polarizing fear leading to extra locks on the door or stocking up on supplies for the zombie apocalypse. Read fairy tales and scary stories with kids. Talk to them. Be honest as you deem necessary. Kids are smarter than we want them to be. They hear and see things with a view much less distorted by time and cynicism than adults do. When we’re afraid, they feel it too. Scary stories can help them understand and relate better to those feelings.
Plus, spooky time is fun time! If it weren’t, why would Stephen King sell so many books? Why do horror movies make so much money at the box office? Fake scares are by no means the same thing as real life ones. But the adrenaline rush we get from jump cuts and boo moments in the movies can act as preparation to deal with the real thing on the news broadcasts.
That’s why I do it. That’s why I enjoy it. I’ll take the fake scary over the real thing any day of the week.
For now, I’ll hug my kids. I’ll read “Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark” with them. I’ll tuck them in at night. And then I’ll sit at my keyboard making up more things that bump and growl.