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ID YOU HEAR THE ONE ABOUT THE RUSSIAN SCI- ENTISTS WHO INVENTED A DRUG THAT KEPT TEST SUBJECTS AWAKE BUT DROVE THE PA- TIENTS TO HAPPILY DISEMBOWEL THEMSELVES?


Did you know about the Mickey Mouse cartoon that spurred a viewer to sui- cide? Or have you seen the picture of the dog with the hideous grin? Maybe they came to you in an email, forwarded from a friend. Or perhaps


you found these nasty narratives lurking in the comments section on a web- site. The stories are all part of a burgeoning form of folklore called creepypasta. The name is a play on copypasta, a term applied to pieces of text or files that are easily copied, pasted and shared online. Trevor Blank, a professor at the State University


of New York at Potsdam, who studies folklore on the internet, says that the web, with its wealth of user- generated content, has fuelled the spread of creep- ypastas over the last few years. “The internet serves not only as a facilitator,


transmitting communications between a sender and a receiver, but also hosts a good deal of new cultural expressions as people learn to manipulate that environment for expressive purposes,” Blank says. One of the most popular creepypasta subjects,


Slenderman, illustrates how new stories rise and rearrange online. Slenderman (pictured) began in a Photoshopping contest on the somethingawful.com forums in 2007. The original images depict a tall, thin, menacing figure in black lurking behind groups of children. Since then the myth has spread wildly, supercharged by DIY additions, namely text, photos and videos, in venues such as 4chan.org’s /x/ group, devoted to paranormal topics. Now Slenderman can be found in video games, YouTube video series, a new movie called The Tall Man (RM#126), and it inspires no shortage of newcomers to ask, “Is it real or fake?” The majority of creepypastas are not so elaborate, however. Many seem


like amateur fiction or chain letters promising a ghastly outcome if certain rules are ignored. Check out one of the online clearing houses such as creep- ypasta.com to see for yourself. But the better examples, like their antecedents in urban legends and sleep- over stories, encode messages that go deeper than a desire to scare. “The


RM50 T H E N I N T H C I R C L E


main drive for sharing these kinds of things is not just the communal aspects, not just the personal satisfaction that comes from performing,” Blank says, “but it’s that a lot of these stories have an underlying justification that speaks to moral fibres the tellers are trying to convey.” Creepypasta contributors often can’t help but project their own fears into


the yarns and sometimes offer warnings about straying outside of approved boundaries, whether through the depiction of evil foreigners in the sleep ex- periment story or a more metaphoric realm of danger conjured by morbid thoughts and images, as in the Mickey Mouse suicide video. A particularly intriguing subset of creepypastas seems to caution against


the very technology that hosts it. A story about a fictional kids’ TV show called Candle Cove takes the form of a conversation on a retro TV discussion board. As the fake conversation progresses, horrific details about the show creep in: someone remembers a villainous skeleton mari- onette called the Skin-Taker; another recalls “pup- pets flailing spastically, all just screaming, screaming.” In other creepypastas, computers are haunted and video games contain spirits. Elizabeth Tucker, a folklorist at Binghamton Uni-


versity in New York, devotes much of her work to ghost lore and other creepy tales. She says that many creepypastas are fundamentally similar to pre-internet folklore. Today’s young people may at- tempt to detect a supernatural entity in a YouTube video of a still image, much like their parents once tried to summon Bloody Mary in a mirror. Kids con- tinue to undertake quests to visit haunted cemeter- ies, but now they might do it in a Pokemon video game instead of their hometown. “Over time people have attributed haunting to the


newest technology,” Tucker says. “Back when typewriters were new, there was talk about spirits coming through the keys. Then there was the haunted phone, the haunted cellphone, the haunted computer. I think it shows a sus- picion of technology.” On a more basic level, creepypastas tap into a widely shared human desire


to play at the edge of darkness. Tucker notes that exploring taboo realms is a characteristic pursuit of youth. “Young people particularly crave stimulation,” she says, “and sometimes enjoy being pushed to the point of disorientation, dizziness and dismay.”


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