History and Philosophy of Science, Reviews, Sociology

The wild man in academe

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So if the Gold Leaf Lady can prove to be a fruitful subject for academic inquiry, why not Bigfoot as well?
As a recent article in the The Chronicle of Higher Education notes, Joshua Blu Buhs, author of Bigfoot: The Life and Times of a Legend, doesn’t make any arguments about the existence of the legendary Sasquatch, but as a cultural phenomenon, Bigfoot, the author shows, proves a substantial subject. Summarizing Buh’s fascinating account “of how the trope of the wild man has figured culturally since ancient times,” Nina C. Ayoub writes for the Chronicle:

[Buhs’] travels deep into the Himalayas where Bigfoot’s Asian cousin, the Yeti, has been pursued. He describes how even seasoned mountaineers could be taken in by high-altitude conditions of sun and “sublimated” snow that can turn a fox print into a sprawling hominid-like track and explores the creature’s appeal to the nonindigenous. “The Yeti was untouched by the materialism of modern life,” he writes. Years after conquering Everest, Edmund Hillary led an expedition with a side goal of investigating the Yeti. He concluded that the beast was a myth. “Snowman melted,” said The New York Times in 1961.
Yet even as Yeti stock went down, Bigfoot currency rose, and the focus turned to the Pacific Northwest. New reports of footprints in Bluff Creek, Calif., in 1958 sparked a furor that brought in such outsiders as Ivan Sanderson, a Scottish naturalist and Fortean, one of a group that investigated bizarre phenomena — “damned things,” as the anomaly specialist Charles Fort (1874-1932) called them.
Throughout Bigfoot, Buhs emphasizes the fascination with the creature among midcentury white working-class men. “To proclaim Bigfoot’s existence,” he argues, “was to insist upon one’s dignity against a world that either denied it, or, worse, went on spinning about its axis as though dignity did not even matter.” Buhs shows how Bigfoot’s hunters and believers figured in the culture of men’s adventure magazines. “Readers didn’t mind that their True (or Real) was full of lies,” he says. “Truth in these magazines was not about facts or correspondence with reality but resisting changing values and valorizing an older tradition.”

Thus, using Bigfoot to comment on our modern relationships to wilderness, individuality, class, consumerism, and the media, Buhs new book offers readers the definitive take on this elusive beast.
Continue reading the rest of the article on the Chronicle website.