Todd Standing recently released a documentary on Netflix titled—informatively if not creatively—Bigfoot. Taking these ninety minutes in conjunction with yet another season of Finding Bigfoot leads me irresistibly into a few reflections.
Standing is the real deal. On his own weekly serial called Survivorman, Canadian naturalist and hiker-extraordinaire Les Stroud tramped through British Columbia with Standing for a couple of episodes two or three years back and was probably more than half persuaded by his host of the gigantic crypto-hominid’s existence. Standing spends days and weeks at a time quietly fusing with some of the wildest terrain in the Northern Hemisphere. He is the source of what must surely be the best close-up photos ever taken of a Sasquatch (on the assumption, of course, that the photos are genuine). Yet he is no black belt when it comes to producing entertainment for the broadcast media. Stroud, having logged years of experience filming his own series, integrated Standing into two riveting episodes. Their well-edited pace preserved a flow sadly lacking in Todd’s just-released documentary.
Nevertheless, both Bigfoot and Survivorman share a potentially lethal liability, from the mainstream marketer’s perspective: they have no bells and whistles, no fireworks and hoopla. Investigators of this caliber (and there aren’t many) examine unnaturally bent or snapped trees in highly artificial formations, they scrutinize indentations in the moss that might be enormous footprints, and they assess the tidy disappearance of apples and other goodies placed high on spindly branches that wouldn’t support a squirrel and would require a mangling assault from a bird. All very CSI, very professional… just not likely to induce the consumer of reality shows to dribble potato chips and pizza from his dropped jaw.
Now, the FB Four Stooges, as I’ve grown fond of calling them, have their shtick down pat. Entry scene in van cruising along an interstate, initial night exploration with hoots and hollers, “townhall” meeting, interviews of individual witnesses as one of the party camps out in a “likely spot”, then reunion for the final night’s grand finale of more hoots and hollers… which of course turn up nothing—“but we’ll be coming back here.” No kidding. As long as the cow gives milk, keep pulling on her udders.
I’m afraid I’ve taken a positive dislike to the Stooges. They’ve milked their cash cow for too long. Unless they are themselves representative of some less evolved primate species, they’re bound to realize that the routine isn’t going to produce close contact after… what is it? Six or seven years? A Sasquatch just might respond from a very great distance—if the moon is blue—to one of their yodels with a howl that no audio equipment can capture. As soon as they repeat the cry in the wrong pitch or cadence, however, or fail to repeat it after the proper interval, the critter and his whole clan know for the remnant of this infrared media blitz to stay under cover. Bigfoot doesn’t want to be seen, idiots—and you don’t know his language!
A good case could be made, I know, that we’re the idiots for watching. I, for one, am watching no more—or perhaps fast-forwarding to the eye-witness accounts, which are much the most relevant information gathered by the series. On the other hand, I think the hubris of this lot is very genuine. The presumption that Bigfoot is a lumbering mega-gorilla without enough sense to invent clothes or leave trash in the open infuses the entire hour, year after year. The high-handed digital imposition of a young King Kong in the bushes to animate every witness’s testimony is especially annoying. These mock-ups look nothing like Standing’s photographs. Have you noticed that the witnesses themselves are never invited to comment upon the accuracy of the cartoonish reconstructions?
The Stooges are now in full celebrity mode, trotting out family members, devoting episodes to their favorite reminiscences, traveling the country to do live gigs on campuses… laughing all the way to the bank, and posing all the way to Hollywood-class stardom. Meanwhile, poor grunts like Todd Standing try to keep pace by piping in Heavy Metal from some old Rambo flick to cover transitions from one scene to another as an ATV crashes through the underbrush. Todd, please take a tip from Les Stroud. Just stay simple. People who are receptive to this possibility are few and thoughtful, if popularly represented as weirdo wackos. The multitude who mock and rail are tuning into Animal Planet because the prospect of several adults screaming wildly into the night turns them on. Let the wheat and the chaff separate.