Is it possible to feel sorry for something that doesn’t exist? If so, then Bigfoot deserves our sympathies.
Tales of Sasquatch or “wild men” have been a part of the American landscape since before there was even an America. Yet, despite decades of searching, there’s still a notable lack of hard evidence the creatures exist at all. Discredited grainy photos and the occasional plaster casting of a footprint don’t count.
But evidence or no, that lack of encouragement sure hasn’t stopped the men of the Gulf Coast Bigfoot Research Organization from devoting their lives to tracking one down and then, upon finding him, filling him full of lead. That’s the dispiriting premise of “Killing Bigfoot,” premiering Friday on Destination America.
Taking place deep in the heart of red-state America, the hourlong special follows a squad of self-appointed Bigfoot hunters, made up of war veterans, ex-lawmen and “hardcore woodsmen,” into the forests of rural Louisiana. Though there’s some talk up front about wanting a Bigfoot specimen to further the cause of science, it’s soon apparent that this show is really about the joy of the hunt.
(It’s a giveaway in the opening credits when it’s revealed there are more snipers on the squad than investigators.)
Let’s just throw out this spoiler warning now: The U.S. government does not end up with its very first official cadaver of a Bigfoot. No worldviews are getting changed here today.
But is it really Bigfoot they’re after? Or the thrill of the hunt? There’s nothing wrong with hunting as a sport. It’s practiced on animals made of much surer flesh and blood than Bigfoot, and it’s clear there’s a certain satisfaction these men get just from the act of tracking, camping and pushing themselves physically out in the heart of Mother Nature.
And if there really is no Bigfoot out there to kill, then what’s the harm? (Yes, this reviewer comes down on the side of skepticism).
But though Bigfoot’s physical presence may be nonexistent, his power as a symbol of the untamed wilderness and the mystique of the great unknown is undeniable. It’s that quest for answers that keeps life interesting, and on some level, it’s what drives these men, just as it drives real scientists the world over.
So why must that drive end in a shotgun blast? Despite multiple so-called eyewitness accounts of Bigfoot encounters in the special, not one person recalls a moment when they were put in physical danger. Frightened? Yes. But fear of the unknown is not reason enough to justify violence.
Lip service is paid to the counter-argument in the special. Several other “Bigfoot experts” argue that hunting down and killing a Bigfoot is not the best way to bring about a clear understanding of a new species. They are correct.
But it’s clear that the special’s heart is not with the joy of discovery so much as the practicalities of hunting. We’re given no view of the inner lives of the squad members, other than each of them recalling a time they were scared by Bigfoot as a child. They were scared, therefore Bigfoot has to die.
But like the ghost hunters on other cable networks, all the buildup comes down to people in the dark swearing to each other they heard something sinister just off camera. It’s a lot of promise with no payoff.
With so little on the line, wouldn’t it be nicer to exult in the mystery than to dwell on the mundane? There are fewer and fewer unknown areas of America these days; maybe we should let Bigfoot roam free. After all, a magical monster is much more fun to consider than a lump of dead meat.
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