17-year-old Daniel Simao dressed up as Slender Man. Photo courtesy of Daniel Simao.
“I chose the character cause he's tall, I'm tall, it's perfect for me,” says Daniel Simao. “I'm aware of the stabbing in America, but no, I didn't wear the costume cause of the incident, or any other supernatural events relating to Slender.”
“Slender” is slang for Slender Man, otherwise known as Slenderman or, in a curious example of internet shorthand, “Slendy.” If you're under the age of 30, up to date with memes, and a sucker for mildly sensationalist articles about horrific crimes committed by teenagers, you'll be familiar with the tall-legged dude who lurks in playgrounds and terrorizes folk with his blank, gawping face.
The story of Slender Man's origins is by now well-known: the “horror figure for the selfie age," as described by the New York Times, emerged during a Photoshop contest on a web forum called Something Awful. From there he found his way to Creepypasta, where a community of enthusiastic writers spun the original, skin-crawling idea into a trope that now echoes endlessly around the internet and beyond.
Sometimes the legend has bled into reality, as appeared to be the case when two 12-year-old girls from Wisconsin were accused of stabbing a classmate 19 times in order to please the Slender. One of the girls was recently deemed mentally unfit to stand trial. In Florida, another teen allegedly paid her respects to Slender Man by lighting her house on fire while her mother and sister slept inside. According to reports, she ran away with nothing but "water, cookies, knives, lighters, and flashlights" and later texted her mom—who, along with the sister, were unscathed—to ask if “any of u (got) hurt.”
Slender Man hanging with Sailor Moon and Sailor Mercury. Photo courtesy of Daniel Simao.
With such reports evoking a demented horror plot, it's hardly surprising Slender Man has captured the imagination of Tumblr types. He's also sparked several rounds of moral panic from schools, police, and other authority figures. “As a parent there's always something... They're trying to target our kids with,” one sheriff said, following the Florida incident. While most of the drama has unfolded up here in the States, the 17-year-old Simao, a cosplayer who has just graduated from high school, would not have been remiss to expect a little criticism for the Slender Man outfit he donned for Sydney's most recent Comic Con.
Yet he wasn't prepared for the backlash inspired by his Slendy shtick. He told me the trouble began when he was forced to leave a Q&A session with Stargate SG-1 star Chris Judge, who he'd visibly spooked with his lurking behavior. “Me and him had a bit of fun... Many people were laughing,” Daniel recalls.
When security asked him to leave the Q&A, he spent the next few hours roaming around the exhibition center, practicing his routine. He describes his behavior as “poking people softly, placing my hand on people's shoulder but taking it off immediately, and the occasional touching of the hair... In no circumstances did I inappropriately touch someone.” The event being Comic Con, many of his "subjects" were fellow cosplayers who would freak out before stopping to admire the seven-foot-tall teen's efforts. A volunteer and a few security guards had asked him “to stop touching people and invading their personal space,” but the warnings hadn't dented his day.
That was until about 1 PM, when a posse of four or five security guards surrounded him. “I didn't take that warning as a warning—it felt more like a threat,” he said. “It felt like, if you don't do as we say you'll have to deal with us. I'm only 17... Obviously by my height they thought I was early- to mid-20s.” A few hours later and after more defiant Slendy hijinks, a group of guards caught up with Daniel and escorted him outside the venue. News later emerged of several complaints concerning behavior deemed “inappropriate” by Comic Con organizers.
Event Director of Oz Comic Con, Bernadette Neumann, has confirmed that an attendee dressed as Slender Man was asked to leave the venue after management received a number of complaints. “While management did not witness every single incident, the fact a number of complaints were made indicated there was an issue which needed to be addressed straight away,” she said. “Oz Comic Con has a zero-tolerance policy on any form of harassment at these events. Anything that is reported to staff and security is immediately acted upon in the appropriate manner.”
Later, other cosplayers took to Facebook to vent their concern and bewilderment over Daniel's ordeal. In a typical response from a community besieged, perhaps unfairly, with accusations of seediness and irrelevance, many sprung angrily to the young cosplayer's defense. Others suggested the complaints were justified. “Your costume was great, but invading other attendees’ space consistently is just bad form,” wrote one contributor. “People aren't always comfortable with being touched by people they don't know, and clearly there were more people that weren't OK than (those that) were.”
According to Patrick Hamilton of Beyond Cosplay, the heated discussion is part of a wider debate concerning right and wrong behavior at places where cosplayers, generally an amiable bunch, like to hang out and enjoy their badass and often attention-grabbing costumes. There are always a few rotten apples, and smartphones and social media have exacerbated opportunities to be thoroughly creepy.
Daniel Simao at the event. Photo by Patrick Hamilton.
“Two guys were running around doing video interviews, getting girls to kiss them on the cheek—then they would turn around and catch them on the lips,” Patrick says of an incident at this year's Sydney Manga and Anime Show. “The police ended up getting involved, they went to [one of the guy's] house and he had to delete everything he filmed and make a YouTube apology. I don't think he was part of the scene, he'd just decided this was a way of making it big and it failed spectacularly—thankfully. It might work in America, but over here everyone's got their defenses up.”
Female attendees, unsurprisingly, are forced to be particularly careful, even around the tired old characters no one takes seriously anymore. James, an active Sydney-based cosplayer, describes an incident involving a dude at this year's Comic Con dressed as Freddy Krueger. “A friend of mine came to where we were standing and asked if she could stay with us,” James recalls. “She said Freddy was a bit frisky and would grab her whenever he saw her. She was very nervous and afraid he would find her again.”
This unnerving incident proves a figure like Krueger can still have an impact beyond its pop culture expiry date. Will Slender Man also persevere? Despite the high-profile cases of violence, and now the controversy at Sydney Comic Con, Patrick feels Slendy is really just as powerful and pathetic as “the new flavor of ice cream everyone's into. Every now and then there needs to be something fresh,” he says. “I don't think the character, in particular, generates its own evil. It's just a template for people to project their own issues onto. It's a blank slate... it's the same with the girl from The Ring, it's just hair over a blank face. I think there's something compelling about that.”
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