Thursday, June 5, 2014

Blame is Fleeting

You probably knew it was coming, so here it is: my thoughts on the Slenderman stabbing.

I am Wisconsin born and raised. I love my state. I may not love long winters or bordering Illinois, but you put up with the bad to take advantage of all the good. So when something so tragic happens in the place I am proud to call my home, it hurts. I'm not saying it would have been any better or worse if it happened elsewhere, but I think most of us can agree that the closer to home something is (physically or emotionally), the harder it hits you.

I've read several articles about the incident, and I've read a ton of comments about it, and it seems to me that a lot of people are looking to place blame (duh). Some people are keeping it broad, suggesting that the internet is essentially the downfall of mankind. Others are getting quite specific, aiming their frustration toward the people behind Slenderman and I can write those both off as ridiculous notions. 

The internet is always going to have opponents, largely because people love to have something to argue against, so this is just the most recent brick laid on their never-ending path to nowhere. And blaming the creator of a fictional character, or a site that caters to horror writing (a pretty wicked genre if you ask me), makes about as much sense as using a steak knife to eat pudding. Could you do it? Sure. But your time would be better spent doing something else and you're probably just going to hurt yourself along the way. 

I think it was best said in the statement on "...I believe placing blame solely on an interest in reading/writing about horror, paranormal, myths, urban legends, etc for a tragedy would be off the mark. Hundreds of thousands of people read scary stories, play horror video games, watch TV shows about ghost-hunting and all other varieties of the macabre and creepy... and if we could truly blame any violent crimes solely on one specific form of entertainment as the trigger – well, I suppose it would be a relief as we’d be able to expunge said cause and clear the world of such awful happenings."

Also, an unsettling amount of blame is being thrown at the girls' parents. Yes, I understand that it is a parent's responsibility to know what their kids are up to. (In fact, I'm a big fan of people taking responsibility for themselves and their children. That's how it should be!) Monitoring computer and television usage is great. Spending time with your kids is awesome. But let's be realistic: most of us did things that our parents didn't know about. Even if you got caught doing something and were punished, the implication is that you were doing something they didn't know about in the first place. I'm not saying the majority of us were trouble children. It might have been as benign as using a flashlight after lights out to finish reading a chapter (yep, I'm a nerd), but odds are there was something you kept from your parents at one point or another. Does anyone out there truly believe that these girls' parents were aware of their daughters' plans and let it happen anyway?

I'm not excusing the parents completely. There must have been signs that something about these girls was a little off. Too much time online. Overdeveloped interest in horror or fantasy with no visible outlet. Something. I mean, some reports are saying that one girl's brother knew at least something about her obsession, though he admittedly didn't realize that it had gone from fantasy to reality for her and thought she was a "normal" girl. 

I think the hope is that if parents are paying enough attention to their kids, that they will see signs that something is amiss. The reality is that it isn't always possible. Parents don't always have the ability to oversee every part of their kids' lives, and even if they do see something disconcerting, they might not know what to do, or might not get to it in time, or might think they're misreading things. Not every kid who shows an interest in horror stories is disturbed, so at what point do you decide that it's gone from a normal hobby to something that will spark violent behavior? 

And possibly the most important thing here is that no one wants to believe that something is seriously wrong with their child or that their child is capable of something like this. Denial is as strong as it is dangerous, but it's human nature. How many times have you noticed something weird, but just ignored it and hoped it was nothing or that it would resolve itself? Maybe you convinced yourself that a mole you don't remember having has been there your whole life. Or maybe your car started making a funky noise, so you just turned the radio up and kept on driving. And if we don't want to admit that something is potentially wrong with our cars or even ourselves, I can only imagine how hard it would be for a parent to accept that something about their child might not be OK.   

So whom, then, do we blame? The girls? Maybe. They're young, so it seems obvious that their brains aren't yet fully developed. Their understanding of right and wrong is still in the works, as is their capacity for making decisions and moral judgments. This is why younger offenders are typically not tried as adults: they simply don't have the same cognitive abilities as someone 5 or 10 years older. It's also clear that they had trouble distinguishing between works of fiction and the realm of reality, which we can chalk up to youth, mental illness, or a bit of both. But these girls are admitting to feeling little or no remorse. They put aside time and planned this attempted murder. They thought through their actions and they know what they were trying to accomplish. They said that they wanted to become "proxies" of Slenderman, and that they had to kill someone to do so. The key here is that whether or not they believed in Slenderman is far less important than the fact that they were willing to stab someone to death at all.

Honestly, I don't know who's to blame, and I'm not entirely sure it matters anyway. Regardless of the reason these girls tried to murder another girl, someone they called a friend. Whatever the justification, the act was horrendous. So instead of trying to figure out where to point our fingers or direct our anger and sadness, maybe we should just try to focus on what needs to be done moving forward. If mental illness is involved, let's get help for these girls and work on getting help for anyone else who needs it. If they're just sick girls who are OK with stabbing people, let's put them somewhere they can't hurt anyone else. Demonizing a website or the girls' parents isn't going to fix anything. Let's find something that will.

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