Saturday, August 16, 2008

A Gathering of the Faithful.

After rereading yesterday's post, it occurred to me to explain how I ended up at a Bigfoot Convention in the first place. I would guess that a majority of people would never consider spending a Saturday afternoon engaging such an event. But I've always been intrigued by strange sociological niches, and I also have a healthy regard for the necessity of mystery in life. Going out to Jeannette, PA to observe a bunch of folks discussing the phenomena of Sasquatch seemed to appeal to both of these interests. I had no idea what to expect. What type of human being would consider devoting a significant amount of time to studying the supposed existence of this legendary creature? In the face of modern science, what would inspire hope that this thing truly exists?

It was surprisingly easy to round up a few companions to join me for this day-trip out of the city. It didn't require advanced forms of persuasion. There is something about Bigfoot that resonates with the inner child, and god knows I have a lot of friends that harbor deep reserves of youthful spirit and imagination. In an era when skepticism about everything rules the day, it's comforting to believe in the unknown. It's actually a guilty little secret among the masses- individuals hide their faith in UFO's, secret societies, ghosts, and honest politicians all the time. The modern urban sophisticate is apt to bury these affinities deep within him/herself, and you'd likely be shocked to discover what lurks in the hearts of those you are close to.

So I drove out to Pitzer's, the bar that hosts this annual meeting on behalf of the Pennsylvania Bigfoot Society. I was immediately struck by the homogeneity of the attendees. They were almost exclusively rural white folk- the kind that you'd be likely to find at a NASCAR or Toby Keith concert. There was lots of beer and unhealthy foods available for purchase at an affordable price. There were booths selling T-shirts, bumper stickers and pins. And there was a cavalcade of self-appointed experts on all types of supernatural topics. You could tell who the major players in this little world were almost immediately. They were the ones hawking their books and signing autographs. Where there is money to be made, there is someone willing to receive it.

Actually, the multi-varied nature of subjects represented by these peripheral academics took me a bit off-guard. As one speaker after another got up to make presentations, I learned that multi-dimensionality is a valued unifying theory within this circle. Apparently knowing something can pop in and out of our sensory experience proves the existence of all manner of odd and elusive monsters. It was suggested that Bigfoot may actually be a specter or alien life-form. That goes a long way in explaining why scientifically verifiable remains have never been found. On one hand, I had to admire the mental dexterity that allows someone to form such a conclusion. But alternatively, I also felt that this was a bit of a cop-out.

I guess that there isn't enough national Bigfoot trade to support specialists. Financial difficulties require diversification. So some of the same researchers that pen tomes about our beloved Yeti also collect tales of real-life hauntings and extraterrestrial conspiracies. To be sure it makes for some lively cross-disciplinary interactions. It also serves to tamp down the wacky adherents of more idiosyncratic explanations. One farmer posited that the Bigfoot was the result of the post-Civil War need for cheap agricultural labor. His hypothesis involved a rather unenlightened theory of cross-breeding. Another was hell-bent on proclaiming that Bigfoot variations are the results of nuclear wastes stored in local mines. I guess we can assume that every movement contains its orthodoxies.

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