The hunt for Bigfoot emulates an earlier mode of discovery, when new knowledge was not the product of advanced degrees and expensive machinery but rather curiosity, bravery, patience and survival. In the 19th century, the American landscape revealed its majesties to ordinary settlers pushing westward into territory unmapped by Europeans. To track Bigfoot today is to channel that frontier spirit (as well as to appropriate Native American traditions).
Bigfoot also embodies other less romantic but no less enduring American traits, like gullibility and a hunger for attention. “There are so many fake videos,” says Loren Coleman, the founder of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine. The problem has grown worse with social media, where viral hoaxes, like drone footage of a supposed Bigfoot in a clearing in Idaho, can rack up millions of views. Coleman, for his part, believes there is evidence for Bigfoot’s existence, but he and his like-minded peers find it difficult to focus attention on this material amid the growing number of obvious shams. “Technology has ruined the old cryptozoology,” Coleman says.