Digital Folklore : MARBLE HORNETS, the Slender Man, and the Emergence of Folk Horror in Online Communities

In December 2013 I completed an MA in Film Studies at the University of British Columbia (Canada). I’d gone in certain that I was going to study J-Horror, but after a short time admitted to myself that I was too all-or-nothing to feel that I’d done the subject justice, given that I didn’t know the language and was unlikely to spend an appropriate amount of time in Japan to properly research the topic. Turns out it was for the best though, because through exploring found-footage horror films I realized that folklore is a thing you can study…

My MA thesis blends two of my favourite things, folklore and horror. Here’s the abstract:

In June 2009 a group of forum-goers on the popular culture website, Something Awful, created a monster called the Slender Man. Inhumanly tall, pale, black-clad, and with the power to control minds, the Slender Man references many classic, canonical horror monsters while simultaneously expressing an acute anxiety about the contemporary digital context that birthed him. This anxiety is apparent in the collective legends that have risen around the Slender Man since 2009, but it figures particularly strongly in the Web series Marble Hornets (Troy Wagner and Joseph DeLage June 2009 - ). This thesis examines Marble Hornets as an example of an emerging trend in digital, online cinema that it defines as “folk horror”: a subgenre of horror that is produced by online communities of everyday people – or folk – as opposed to professional crews working within the film industry. Works of folk horror address the questions and anxieties of our current, digital age by reflecting the changing roles and behaviours of the everyday person, who is becoming increasingly involved with the products of popular culture. After providing a context for understanding folk horror, this thesis analyzes Marble Hornets through the lens of folkloric narrative structures such as legends and folktales, and vernacular modes of filmmaking such as cinéma direct and found footage horror. The focus then shifts to the ways in which Marble Hornets’ digital folk context amplifies the classic horror conventions with which the series engages. Primary attention is given to three key components: the monster, the narrative, and the audience. Folk horror might be a new term, but it is an old concept, one that reflects the important role that community plays in the forging of fear. It has been suggested that the Slender Man is a tulpa, a creature brought into physical existence by collective thought. As such he is truly a monster for the digital age as he reflects the many faces – positive and negative – of the increasingly “connected” individual. Through the lens of folk horror we may not only witness significant developments in the horror genre, but also those of storytelling on a broader scale.

You can read (or skim through) the whole thing here.