Tag Archives: Internet

The Slender Man, Fakelore, and Moral Panic

I recently wrote a guest post for the Wild Hunt, looking at the reporting on a horrific teen crime in Wisconsin and its supposed connections to a fictional Internet figure known as Slender Man. Click in through to see the whole thing, but here’s a taste:

Such approaches to the attack suggest that the Internet in general, and the Slender Man story in particular, are to blame. Put another way, they imply that without Creepypasta’s wiki, the girls never would have stabbed their classmate. Even the mainstream press has done everything it can to connect the Milwaukee stabbing with the Slender Man story in readers’ minds: most are referring to it as the “Slenderman stabbing” now. In other places, headlines have made clear what they want readers to think: “Fantasy ‘Slender Man’ Meme Inspires Horrific Wisconsin Stabbing,” “Demonic Creature ‘Slender Man’ Motive For Waukesha Teen Stabbing?” “Could a fictional Internet character drive kids to kill?”

The war against metal is still alive — in some minds

Did Rick Santorum declare war on heavy metal? No — but a hoax is making people think so. Santorum photo by Gage Skidmore.

These days, it can be doggedly difficult to tell truth from fiction. When some of the best news broadcasting comes from Comedy Central, and political candidates say things that seem straight out of The Onion, it takes a sharp eye to know what you’re seeing.

Last week, Tyranny of Tradition posted “Rick Santorum Declares War on Heavy Metal.” Tyranny of Tradition, written by Keith Spillett, is was created “in the hopes of working out some internal questions I have been struggling with in a public way so that those who wrestle with the same questions can have the opportunity to gain deeper insights to their meanings,” Spillett wrote. “There will be some inconsistencies, oversimplifications and illogical arguments in the posts ahead.”

But most people didn’t know that when they read the following:

“If you listen to the radio today, many of these brand new, so-called heavy metal music bands like Black Sabbath, Venom, The WASP and Iron Maiden use satanic imagery to corrupt the minds of young people,” announced Santorum at a 10,000 dollar a plate sock-hop in Valdosta, Georgia on Thursday.

Santorum’s popularity in the polls has grown substantially since he began speaking out against metal and its assault on traditional values. He has spent much of the past week in the Midwest encouraging young people to stay away from metal artists and listen to performers like Michael W. Smith and Pat Boone. In a recent Gallup Poll, 87 percent of Republican voters think that the biggest problem in America today is “the demented bloodlust of teenagers caused entirely by heavy metal music.”

Many blog commenters got the joke right away: “1984 called, they want their controversial topic back,” one quipped. But many others fell for it, believing that the conservative Santorum was reviving the PMRC’s crusade against metal — in fact, against the same metal bands (WASP, Venom) that stuck in Tipper Gore’s craw in 1985.

Apparently, the post went viral on Facebook and Twitter, with many metal fans outraged to be facing the same old moral panic.

What’s interesting to me is that a hoax like this can get so far before people catch on. It means a few things: one, that metalheads’ perception of Republicans is that they’re stuck in the past, ill-informed, and ready to go on the warpath against teen culture. Two, that the spectre of what the PMRC did in the 1980s has not completely gone away, even nearly 30 years later. And three, that the culture of heavy metal has not yet made peace with the dominant culture — and likely never will.

Guest Post: Radical Parenting’s Vanessa Van Petten on how social networking saves teens from isolation

Vanessa Van Petten, creator of Radical Parenting, does what too few do: she gives teens a place to speak in their own voices. In particular, the teens at Radical Parenting offer parents insight and advice into adolescents and their culture.

Vanessa’s new book, Do I Get My Allowance Before Or After I’m Grounded?, comes out tomorrow. In it, she offers ways for parents to talk to and connect with their teens on a variety of hot-button topics, from sex and drugs to social networking.

To celebrate the release of the book, Vanessa offered Backward Messages an excerpt that touches on one of our core issues — goth culture, and the discrimination many goths face for choosing to stand apart stylistically from the mainstream. In this excerpt, a goth teen explains how she found community with fellow goths, thanks to a little help from the Internet:

Although we do address some of the negative affects of technology below, using it to try new things is not all bad. I have worked with teens who made YouTube videos for their favorite community service cause and went on to raise thousands of dollars from strangers that they never would have been able to reach had it not been for the Internet. Websites such as Score.org and TeenInk encourage teens to try new experiences with nonprofits online, writing poetry and starting their own businesses. The Internet can give teens opportunities and practice in areas they never dreamed possible. Take for example an experience I had with a 17-year-old Michelle. I was speaking at a rural school in Missouri about Internet safety. Actually, I refuse to call my technology talks to students “Internet Safety,” and prefer instead to call them “Internet Savvy” as I review both the good and the bad parts of technology. After my talk, a tall female student walked up to the podium.

“Thanks for that,” she said.

I looked up from my notes expecting to meet one of the many similar looking girls I had seen milling around the halls all morning—average skin tone, medium length hair, some kind of brightly colored sweater. Yet, when I glanced up, I gulped—loudly. “Tha—ahhnk you?” I cleared my throat, “Thank you I mean.”

She shrugged her leather-clad shoulder. “I mean usually people come here and talk about how awful and unsafe the Internet is, but for me, it saved my life.”

The girl in front of me had jet-black dreadlocks to her hips, more piercings than I could count, and dark black eye make-up caked over painted white skin and large spiked boots. A couple of the students who had been waiting to talk to me shuffled off upon seeing her. I reminded myself to have no expectations and smiled. “Wow, it saved your life? What do you mean? And what’s your name, by the way.” I put out my hand.

She shook it gently. “I’m Michelle and I’m a Goth. I always knew I was different. But I live here.” She gestured around the large auditorium and I looked at all of the students who—though I was sure were unique in their own ways, looked strikingly similar. “Everyone here is the same. It used to drive me crazy. I don’t do drugs or have sex. I’m a good girl. I go to church, but I really like to dress this way. I like gothic make-up and music. But it doesn’t matter that I don’t do anything bad because when I dress like this, people think I’m bad.”

“I couldn’t imagine what that would be like. How did the Internet help exactly?”

“When I was 13 I went on MySpace. It was the first time I realized not everyone was from Missouri.” She laughed, “You know what I mean. I knew that before. But I found people who were like me. People who loved gothic make-up and heavy metal music and they didn’t do drugs or anything. I finally started to feel like less of a freak. I felt like I was normal—different than people here, but normal somewhere.”

I had never thought about this aspect of identity searching before. “So, it actually gave you a community and self-esteem about who you are?”

She flashed me teeth that matched her white skin. “Self-esteem, don’t even get me started. Before the Internet, to be honest I was thinking about killing myself. I hated who I was and was tired of pretending. I met a girl in a gothic chat forum who convinced me not to take the pills I found in my Dad’s medicine cabinet.” She looked down at her spiked boots. “I might not be here now if it wasn’t for the Internet.” I often tell this story when I speak, not only to demonstrate the importance of accepting people for their differences, but also to address the fact that technology provides new access to both good and bad experiences.

There are also many technological programs that give teens access to new opportunities and information. Teens who live in rural areas with rare diseases or psychological problems are doing digital doctor visits with therapists or specialists in far away cities when they cannot afford to travel. Another company called the Birds and Bees Text Line, started in North Carolina, delivers sex education to teens via text message. They send questions to teens like, “If you have sex underwater do you need a condom?” Teens can also send in their questions like, “Why do guys think it’s cool to sleep with a girl and tell their friends?” which will be responded to in 24 hours or less. This is a new kind of sex education that not only delivers information they might not get elsewhere to stay safe, but also offers them an anonymous and safe way to ask questions they are worried about.

Vanessa Van Petten is the creator of RadicalParenting.com, a parenting website written from the teen perspective to help parents understand them. She is also the author of the parenting book, Do I Get My Allowance Before or After I’m Grounded?” Find out more about Vanessa and her new book in

“The Rite” priest claims Internet is causing increase in demonic possession

Image by Flickr user Joe Howell.

Since Anthony Hopkins’ new film The Rite is #1 at the box office right now, public attention has turned once again to the classic Catholic ritual known as exorcism. This happens every few years, as with the release of The Exorcism of Emily Rose in 2005 and The Last Exorcism in 2010.

It’s interesting that humans can’t really shake this idea that it’s possible for evil spirits to enter us and take over, as though we were puppets. Certainly some forms of mental illness (as well as tremendously bad moods or poor impulses) can feel this way. And for some reason we are especially attached to the idea of teenagers falling prey to the charms of the Devil.

That may explain why Father Gary Thomas, the real-life priest played by Hopkins in The Rite, is warning parents about the demonic dangers of the Internet. In his eyes, looking at Web sites devoted to the occult — everything from Tarot cards to séances — makes teens vulnerable to “demonic influences” and, ultimately, possession. Of course, the only cure for possession is exorcism, which is Thomas’ line of work, so to speak.

As usual, his claims are pretty much based on hearsay and/or anecdotes:

He said there were “no statistics” on how many people might be possessed but said there was a definite increase.

“What I can tell you is that there are more and more Catholics involved in idolatrous and pagan practices,” he said. “That’s really why there’s more demonic activity. There’s the absence of God in the lives of a lot of people.”

He added: “A lot of parents today have no critical eye of faith with which to even recognise the dangers their children are in. A lot of this is going on with the internet. There are lots and lots of demonic websites.”

Since Fr. Thomas doesn’t describe the symptoms of “demonic influence,” it’s hard to say objectively what might be on the upswing. It sounds like he’s talking about more than simply straying from the Catholic flock. But what exactly? Unusual behavior? Criticisms of organized religion? Heads turning 360 degrees? I can’t help but wish he’d been more specific, but I suppose that would make his Internet claims easier to debunk.

From my own observations of cultural behavior (specifically in the context of moral panics), the #1 cause for increases in anything is increased awareness of that thing. You know how when you buy a particular kind of car, suddenly you notice all the other people who own that same car? Now imagine you’ve just been told that demonic possession/influence among teens is on the rise, and the Internet is causing it. What are you going to see the next time your teen acts weird?

Here’s my question for readers today: Did you grow up in a religious household, or do you know someone who did? Did your parents (or the parents you knew) ever chalk up a kid’s bad behavior to “the Devil?” I’d love to hear those stories.