Bickering Bigfoot

Take a look at the Patterson-Gimlin film, if you haven’t watched it a hundred times already. This brief strip of 16mm film—alleged to show a female Sasquatch retreating through the Six Rivers National Forest in California—has been exhaustively debated among believers and debunkers. After the Zapruder Film, this particular footage (or Bigfootage, as I like to call it) is probably the most scrutinized scrap of film in US history. The 52-second Sasquatch cameo shows Patty[1] taking a leisurely stroll through a clearing, casually glancing over her right shoulder at the viewer before disappearing behind fallen, dead trees. This film is so iconic that even if you aren’t interested in Bigfoot, you’ll recognize frame 352, in which the creature stares straight at the camera, left arm bent and swinging up to chest level while the right stretches out behind[2].

Tragically, the Patterson-Gimlin Film’s veracity has become a wedge issue in the otherwise copacetic community of Bigfootology. There are those who want the world to finally admit that PGF provides conclusive evidence that Bigfoot exists. Then there are those who see the PGF advocates as gullible yahoos who give the scientifically rigorous field of Bigfootology a bad name.

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As you might expect, the open and fair exchange of ideas devolves quickly into trollery. Accusations of illiteracy and inbreeding follow quick on the heels of any new insight.

It’s amazing how convoluted the appraisals of this film go. Even when I make the Youtube video (HD version) full-screen, Patty is still no bigger than a pack of Winstons. Despite this, Bigfootologists debate details like muscle movement and an alleged rip on the fake-fur right sleeve. Greg Long[3], for example, claims you can see the sun glint the creature’s right eye.[4] (Bob Heironimus famously claimed to be the man in the Sasquatch suit, and his right eye was glass.) On the James Randi Educational Foundation forum, Dr. DRE posts that the creature does not have a “bilateral buttocks” and, therefore, has no place to defecate. User LAL immediately retorts, “What? The cleft is clearly visible in some frames, such as in frame 72.”

One memorable recent skirmish revolved around Patty’s flat-footed, stiff-assed walk, which some claim would be nearly impossible for a human to replicate. A Bigfoot aficionado named Ray suggested that to test this theory, people should simply walk around wearing flippers. In the interest of advancing Sasquatch science, user LAL takes him up on his observation and later reports: “Sorry I wasn't clearer in my statement. I was busy walking across the floor Groucho Marx style with my hands on my ‘arse’ and checking clenches and jiggles in the full-length mirror. Of course, while I'm a bipedal hominid, I don't have the same build as a Sasquatch, so I can only approximate.”

As you might expect, the open and fair exchange of ideas devolves quickly into trollery. Accusations of illiteracy and inbreeding follow quick on the heels of any new insight:

  • Actually, I'd take along Murphy's book with the color pictures since most people seem to be too dense to follow Krantz, and I'd have my tape and DVD of LMS for those who can’t read at all.
  • No, it is really not sad. This is only just evidence of the symptoms of your own mental disorder.
  • I hate to sink to the level of name-calling you and your buddies seem to revel in; I outgrew that stuff in grade school. But I can think of a few words right now I didn't learn in grade school.
  • Hey, I’m in LAL´s ignore list! Cool!
  • No your face is clearly chubby. It's not muscle at all. You look fat/overweight. You also look like an ugly bastard.

A friend lent me her DVDs of Stephen Fry in America, a television show in which the large and affable Stephen Fry travels through every US State. During the Oregon episode, Fry interviews Matt Johnson. Johnson’s driving ambition is to prove Sasquatch exists so it can be placed on the endangered species list and be assigned a protected habitat.

In the firelight, Johnson tells the story of his own Bigfoot encounter. While on a hike with his family, descending a large hill, they smell something peculiar.[5] Johnson describes the noises that followed the smell. Though he says that the sound is too low and guttural to imitate, he takes a stab at it and emits something like a trombonist being dipped in olive oil. The image on screen changes to night vision footage of the two men walking through the dark woods by the beams of two flashlights. The camera dollies slowly in on Johnson’s face as he tells Fry how he left his family on the trail so he could relieve himself. He walked about 80 feet into the woods when he spotted Bigfoot “walk from the pages of myth and legend and into reality.”[6] When Fry asks Johnson why he didn’t take a photo, his voice starts shaking and his eyes water. “I have my family there,” he says. “I’m not going to stop and risk losing my family.”

Stephen Fry’s face grows serious as his interviewee nearly bursts into tears. I can only assume that he is thinking what I am thinking: Why do you so love a creature you believed might kill everyone you care about?

Spend enough time on a website that’s dedicated to any human passion or belief and you will glimpse this same rapid devolution from unwary earnestness to brutishness. What this reveals about humanity eludes me. Now we are wholesome, but scroll down a bit and we become lumbering spiteful beasts. Somewhere on the web there should be an inviolable endangered-species habitat for our better angels.

With all this bickering, in the end, I am just reminded of one of the summers I worked for the YMCA. There were only two playground swings, and, with over 90 kids in the program, demand was pretty high. So high, in fact, that we had to create a lengthy set of rules to keep pandemonium at bay. One day, Danny ran up to tell me that Kelly wouldn’t get off the swing, even though he had counted aloud to 30. But when I spoke with Kelly, she had refused to give him the swing was because he tried to push her off. Danny countered that she had kicked him. Kelly said she only kicked him because he pushed her off the swing and when her legs whipped up into the air, her foot caught him on the chest.

I wasn’t there when all of this happened. I couldn’t trust either of their versions of the truth, but I knew that whatever half-truth they gave me was their full reality. All I could do was roll my eyes and say, “If you guys can’t share or play nice, then none of you can participate in water day.”

[1] So named after Patterson-Gimlin. (You might expect people who spend their time arguing cryptozoology to have a little more imagination.)

[2] In fact, when I brought up the idea of this article with the other writers for Morkan’s Horse, Graham pushed himself back on his barstool and struck the pose.

[3] Co-author of The Making of Bigfoot: The Inside Story, which, I’m guessing, is available in a few remote bookstores when you least expect to see it.

[4] The hotly debated Frame 346.

[5] At this point the background music takes on the hesitating, soft tinkling of high notes on a piano, as if being played by a small, possessed child.

[6] I’m guessing not literally.

HEATHER BUCHANAN is based on a true story.