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FYI...

November 27, 2012

Slate: It's time to put a lid on the bigfoot research

Jeff Meldrum wants to search for Bigfoot by using a remote-controlled blimp. Because when you're looking for a mythical creature famous for eluding all who search for it, a giant, buzzing, looming balloon is clearly the way to go. Meldrum, a tenured Idaho State University anthropologist who established his career studying primate foot anatomy before shifting his focus to monsters, expects he'll have to raise $300,000 to get the project airborne. He's trying (and so far failing) to get funding from private sources. (No surprise that his home institution wants nothing to do with the endeavor.) That's a lot of money and effort for what will undoubtedly turn out to be a collection of blurry photographs that look like Instagram snapshots from a visit to the Pacific Northwest woods.

I loved reading breathless tales of encounters with the Yeti, Loch Ness Monster, Jersey Devil, Bigfoot and other cryptids as a child, but those stories have never been supported by anything more substantial than an out-of-focus snapshot or embellished campfire story. And in the case of North America's legendary nonhuman ape, the picture historians and sociologists have pieced together is that Bigfoot and other shaggy humanoids are cultural inventions that we have repeatedly conjured so that there's always something wild and mysterious in the woods. Stories about Bigfoot began to proliferate after expeditions in the Himalayas in the 1950s reported ambiguous Yeti footprints - none of which have been convincingly attributed to a Gigantopithecus descendant or other prehistoric hominid holdover. Sasquatch fans have since done a bit of retconning by claiming Native American stories and dubious historical encounters as part of their mythology, but the trail is clear. Bigfoot is not a monster but a meme.

This hasn't swayed the cryptozoological faithful. They are convinced that monstrous beings must be out there, just out of reach. If you browse the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization website, for example, you'll find more excuses than hard evidence. Despite the ubiquity of smartphone cameras and the accessibility of camera traps, there are no clear photographs of the mythical ape. The site asserts that sightings are fleeting because Sasquatches are smart enough to avoid unwanted pictures, and photographers are often overcome by the "initial confusion and/or fear during their sighting." As for the lack of a body or bones: "No serious work has ever been done to look for remains of surviving wood apes in areas where they are rumored to reside," the BFRO website says, and blithely states that "No one should expect remains of such an elusive species to be found, collected and identified without some effort." Even for Sasquatch advocates, seeking the remains of their beloved legend is just too much work.

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