Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Out With The Old | Fiction | Slender Man And Spanking Keira Knightley


Well, it’s out with the old. More specifically, out with David Cronenberg’s upcoming adaptation of A Most Dangerous Method: The Story Of Jung, Freud, & Sabrina Spielrein. I enjoyed Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises, which had fun with a frosty, unglamorous London and that fight scene, but I thought it was the closest he’d ever come to embracing genre, rather than flirting with it. And, sure, it might just be the canny marketers at work, but the trailer for A Dangerous Method looks very much like an-over familiar period piece. A sort of King’s Speech of psychiatry, in which Jung is inspired towards his theory of individuation by spanking Keira Knightley sexily. Meanwhile, Freud and a curiously French Otto Gross stare reflectively into the air and utter profundities.

What is it with Keira Knightley as the go-to girl for this sort of film? Why did I accept her lanky presence and top-billing with nothing more than a sorrowful groan? Wouldn’t Ruth Wilson be sexier, more twisted, and more believable as a cutting-edge female psycho-analyst? (Actually, I think Michael Fassbender as Jung is a miscast, too – Iain Glen, who played him in an earlier adaptation of the story, seems to me a much better fit, with his current performance in TV’s Game of Thrones proving that he can lend weight and compassion to anything, up to and including the sight of a naked, sooty girl in a blonde wig, clutching a CGI baby dragon to her vagina and Peter Dinklage attempting a really awful English accent).

…and in with the new. Because I was delighted recently to learn of the existence of Slender Man, a faceless, rather skinny chap in a suit who’s apparently been caught on camera in various children’s playgrounds and forests, looking quite exceptionally sinister.

Slender Man is a photoshopped horror creation, made in 2009 by a chap called ‘Victor Surge’ on the comedy website and forum Something Awful as part of a competition to create spooky images. His iconic (not to say dashing) look apparently made him very popular, and he was at once edited into a variety of different pictures, along with an ever-growing backstory, which ranged from the childish – he kills his victims and leaves them in pieces in plastic bags – to the smart – the more you investigate his existence, the more likely he is to appear. And then people began to write.

There are now a considerable number of stories involving the Slender Man, of varying quality, using a very inventive format; the blog itself. Their earliest entries tend to be about something else entirely – deliberately banal hobbies or the usual bloggish self-centred ramblings. Then the narrator will begin to notice a strange, thin-looking man loitering around wherever they go, or (more interesting) stumble upon existing accounts of the Slender Man…such as the other stories, in real life, doing exactly the same thing. An inevitable descent into madness and paranoia will ensue; at the same time, narrators from the other blogs will come across and comment, delivering warnings or prophecies. The narrator may then vanish from the blog entirely, only for another narrator to appear, a friend or colleague who will begin to investigate the disappearance of the last narrator, and so on, and so on…

And, of course, as the stories have gone on, they’ve spread further and further. There are now several Youtube series featuring Slender Man, mockumentaries with a cod-Blair Witch feel. These, too, seem to unfailingly work using layers of myth and multiple sources; in one of the most popular, Marble Hornets, the protagonist is a film-maker who’s examining the pretentious student film of an old (yes, disappeared) friend, and begins to film his own actions, as well as documenting his progress via a blog, Twitter, Tumblr, etc.

It’s a little like one of those viral marketing campaigns – except that it’s its own entity, without any cynical advertising clinch, and it’s tightly entrenched enough in the unreality of the internet that it can be disguised as a ‘secret’ truth. After reading the stories, I actually realised I’d seen a picture of Slender Man on a (very self-serious) conspiracy theory website months earlier, which makes the joke even funnier. But it’s also very Borgesian; an indirect influence, I think, probably via Mark Danielewski’s horror novel House of Leaves. Multiple authors, writing in real-time, keeping up the conceit over multiple forms of media, referencing and commenting on each other, even letting their protagonists interact, and readers who don’t just read one story, but are directed to click through onto an earlier ‘original’ story, and an earlier one, and an earlier one…it strikes me that this may be a narrative form that’s actually been born out of the Internet, and that can survive in it.

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