Spooky Internet Folklore; or, Confessions of Two Gothic Internet Chickens
September 22, 2020
Okay, we have a confession to make.
As much as we talk about how much we L O V E Halloween and the Gothic and all things spook-tacular (and we DO!)… we’re actually also kind of chickens :P.
See, both of us have this terrible habit of LOVING to scare ourselves silly… but then sincerely regretting it later. Like, when we’re in bed, unable to fall asleep because of that shadow in the corner that is definitely a demonfromtheninthcircleheretoclaimoursoulsomgomgOMG.
We both do this, and it’s the bane of our existence. We’d certainly sleep a lot better if we DIDN’T do it, that’s for sure! But, alas, we continue.
For example, one time Brittany read this deliciously soul-shaking masterpiece online called “The Dionaea House” (it’s sadly offline now, but you can find an archive of the main text and some of the links here! It’s not quite the same as reading it across the different webpages it was originally hosted on, but you can still get a feel for it!) It was a masterpiece of hypertextual Internet horror storytelling, and she LOVED it. She showed it to Sara a few years later, and she loved it so much she actually wound up teaching it in her Intro to Folklore course at OSU!!
Were we both terrified by this thing? You bet. Did that stop either of us from savoring every word? Not even a little bit.
(If you’ve read the chilling labyrinth in novel form, House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski, that’s totally the vibe “The Dionaea House” captured in digital form.)
Now, even when it was first online – spread out across different webpages and made to look as if it was a record of actual things that had happened – if you tried pretty hard, you could figure out that “The Dionaea House” was a story written and developed by a writer named Eric Heisserer, who was hoping to eventually get it made into a screenplay. So, basically, it was an Internet short story that had gone viral and, in the process of doing so, had transcended its author and become legend.
That’s right, we said legend. Now, if you’ve been with us a while, you probably already know a lot about what a legend is, but in a nut shell, it’s a genre of folk narrative rooted in real time and place that asks listeners to question what they believe and how they see the world. The “truth” of these stories is uncertain. We also tend to think of them as untraceable tales, with no clear origins, that spring up around certain people, events, places, etc.
For example, do you still check the backseat of your car after hearing the story of “The Man in the Back Seat” when you were growing up? (Sara still does this compulsively. Brittany always forgets and then thinks about it as she is driving, at which point it is, of course, far too late.) This is a legend in action.
So, if one of the typical hallmarks of legends are that they have no single author/creator, are legends that come out of the Internet still legends, even when we CAN hunt around and eventually find their source? They absolutely are. As folklorists, we don’t really care about how old something is or pinpointing its “origin.” Instead, we care about what it’s DOING – why people gravitate towards it, retell (or repost) it, and what that says about the wider culture. And Internet legends do the same thing so called “authentic” legends do – they force people to examine their worldview and what they believe in. (If you want to know more about why “authenticity” often sets folklorists’ teeth on edge, check out this post!)
The spooky Internet legends that float around the web, sometimes called “creepypastas,” a play on “copy-paste” stories, are 100% a form of contemporary legend, and we are HERE for them. In fact, we’re doing a whole talk on some of our favorites TONIGHT for Profs & Pints online! There’s still time to register and grab your tickets, but we’ll be live here starting at 7PM EDT.
Can’t wait? Here are two of our favorite spooky “creepypastas” that didn’t quite make it into the presentation!
“Abandoned by Disney” – This is one of the first of the official “creepypastas” Brittany ever came across, before even really understanding what they were (i.e. INTERNET LEGENDS.) The end kind of makes it TOO hard to believe, but up until that point it’s juuuussssttttt subtle enough for you to at least consider how parts of it could actually be true (none of it is… she thinks? :P.)
“The Stairs To Nowhere,” aka “The Search and Rescue Officer’s Stories” – Be forewarned, some of these stories are pretty bleak, but Sara thinks that’s why the stairs, when they’re finally mentioned at the end of part 1, are so unsettling. The storyteller shares all these unsettling tales, but then offers us the merest glimpse of these staircases, in the middle of the wilderness. There’s no explanation, just a note that he could lose his job if he says more. And how haunting is the image of a perfect spiral staircase, forty miles from civilization, curling up to nowhere?
Thoroughly creeped out yet? No? Well, then you’re definitely going to want to join us for our lecture this evening! See you there ;).