Creepypasta: Nightmares we’re all dreaming
The first time I stumbled on a piece of creepypasta, I had no idea what it was. A friend had posted a link to it on Facebook, and since this particular friend always posts interesting things, I clicked through and read it.
I can’t even remember what it was about, now. Maybe a dead girlfriend haunting a teenager. It definitely involved doctored photos, and it was written in an unusual style that contributed to my confusion. I’m pretty sure it was on r/No Sleep, a sub Reddit forum where people tell creepy stories and other readers engage actively with the poster. The story evolved over a series of posts, after which the original poster suddenly disappeared, causing an interesting tension with the readers.
Then there was the time I discovered Slenderman. If you’re not familiar, I believe the general understanding is that Slenderman is a made-up character based on a series of doctored photos that show a preternaturally tall, gangly figure in the shadows, luring children into his clutches. The thing is, though Slenderman isn’t real, he is in the minds of at least two teenagers, who said they were inspired by him to perform real-life murders.
These are only two examples of creepypasta, a viral fiction form that lives on the Internet and is inseparable from it. I know this doesn’t sound literary, but hear me out. These are stories without editors, without middle men, without focus groups. They are, more than anything, about the things that truly scare us, that wake us up in the middle of the night. Because they live on the internet, these stories and concepts grow and evolve, spinning off of each other and becoming more and more meta, to the point where whether or not the characters or situations ever existed becomes beside the point. They exist within our collective consciousness now, reflecting our world’s fears and anxieties in a way we can’t process otherwise. This article spells out its fascination: that creepypasta is a nightmare our culture is dreaming.
As a Jungian (kinda, sorta), I believe strongly that analyzing literature and dreams can tell us things about ourselves that we either can’t or won’t admit to ourselves. And what creepypasta is telling us is that we’re terrified about the amount of control we’ve allowed media and technology to have over our lives.
Take, for example, the entire sub-genre about television. The author points out that there are a lot of stories out there about “lost” TV episodes, such as one about the Simpsons where Bart dies (which I’d heard of, apocryphally, from someone who wasn’t aware the story is likely false). There’s another called “Candle Cove” about a children’s television show that now-grown viewers discover was more and more nightmarish than they remembered, until one viewer thinks to ask his mom about it. I had to look this one up, I was so compelled by it. Who among us hasn’t realized that a childhood show was maybe a little creepy in some ways? And I haven’t found evidence yet, but I am sure there are Haunted Facebook or Haunted Twitter or Haunted Instagram stories out there. Why wouldn’t there be? Murderers post about their kills on Facebook now, some of which were apparently even spurred by Facebook.
At its core, this subgenre isn’t about the shows or the media themselves; it’s about the access we give them in our brain. Think about it — if you stop enjoying an episode of The Simpsons, you can turn it off. I could have stopped reading “Candle Cove” in the middle. You can turn off and/or destroy a computer that appears haunted, you can walk out of a movie.
But the people in these stories don’t. They sit, spellbound, and watch. Just as we sit spellbound in front of our television, computer or phone screens every night, and watch the world unfold around us.