Internet meme rediscovers what scares you

Last updated: October 31. 2013 1:37PM - 2424 Views
By Bill Thomas Weekender Correspondent

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Steve Dziedziak doesn’t scare easy.

Dziedziak, a hardcore horror fan from Shenandoah and a Wilkes University student with aspirations of making a horror film and starting a horror-inspired graphic design company, admits that the first time he read Creepypasta stories “Candle Cove” and “The Russian Sleep Experiment,” the tales “sent chills down (his) spine.”

“I’m not sure as to why, because obviously I’ve seen much more violent, scary things. Maybe it’s the fact that, although I clearly know they are fake, it’s meant to be real,” he says.

If the only thing you think of when you hear the phrase “Creepypasta” is spooky spaghetti or morbid macaroni, get with the program: “Creepypasta” is Internet slang for a macabre variant of “Copypasta,” short stories disseminated via message boards and social media sites in the form of copy-and-pasted blocks of text.

In the spirit of epistolary fiction, Creepypasta accounts of snuff film-making serial killers, haunted hard drives, and morally questionable science experiments gone wrong are presented in formats that mirror typo-laden blog postings and archived e-mails. Likewise, in the spirit of urban legends, readers who share them tend to claim the depicted events actually happened “to a friend of a friend of a friend.”

Referring to the story “Normal Porn for Normal People,” in which a cryptic website links to online videos of a surreal and eventually deadly sort, Dziedziak sums up why Creepypasta’s bid for verisimilitude is so effective.

“We all know how vast and oftentimes f—ked-up the Internet can be,” he says bluntly.

For avid Redditor and self-described “huge Creepypasta fan” Sophia Kowalczyk, of Jermyn, the blurring of the line between fantasy and reality is just part of the appeal. Another part is the way many Creepypasta stories embrace simplicity while omitting explicit explanations for their grim narratives.

“They’re really there just to provide a good scare. It’s really straightforward horror. They’re like the stories you’d hear around a campfire or something your uncle would tell you,” she says, adding that small-scale terror tales work best by hinting at horrors unknown. It’s the intrusion of the abnormal into daily life that removes one’s sense of security and makes one question the creak of floorboards or the flickering shadows moving at the edge of your vision.

That’s the kind of mystery and unease that Kris Straub, the Seattle, Wash.-based creator of webcomic “Broodhollow,” sought to tap into when he wrote the earlier-mentioned story “Candle Cove.” An iconic entry in the Creepypasta canon, “Candle Cove” impersonates an online forum discussion between nostalgic web-users who slowly become aware that their hazy childhood reminiscences of the titular TV show unite them in a sinister, enigmatic way.

Following its debut, “Candle Cove” quickly spread via digital word-of-mouth. Now, there are countless fan-made adaptations, sequels, and spin-offs. Straub fingers this participatory culture as one of Creepypasta’s strongest draws, encouraging readers to take an active role in their entertainment experience.

At the same time, Straub acknowledges that the Internet’s “Wild West” nature makes that participatory culture a double-edged sword. In point of fact, “Candle Cove” was never intended as a piece of Creepypasta and, as the story spread, Straub’s name didn’t always spread with it.

“I was excited to find out the story was spreading so far, because I was happy that it resonated so much with people,” Straub said. “I think it’s cool that people want to write fan-fiction and that people want to explore ideas through that, and I encourage that. More than a couple times, though, people have tried to pitch or do a mock-up of an animated series based on ‘Candle Cove.’ That’s where I get nervous.”

As the world of Creepypasta continues to expand, Straub emphasizes the importance of creators keeping a watchful eye on their intellectual property, as well as fans respecting creators’ rights.

Like any good Internet meme, the world of Creepypasta has indeed expanded and taken on a life of its own. One popular offshoot features Creepypasta stories re-imagined as modern-day “books on tape,” accompanied by YouTube videos full of ominous images, sound effects, and music.

With more than 300,000 YouTube subscribers and 80,000 Facebook fans, the man who calls himself “Mr. Creepypasta” is one of the best known makers of such videos. And, according to him, he and the world of Creepypasta in general are just getting started.

“Creepypasta is, I think, still a cult thing at the moment, and some people think it’s just a fad and it’ll pass eventually,” Mr. Creepypasta says.

“To me, that’s like saying the horror genre is a fad, or any genre is a fad. We’re never going to run out of things to be scared of, and we’re not going to get tired of being scared.”

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