May 2009

Benjamin Jacob Hollars


Bigfoot: The Life and Times of a Legend by Joshua Blu Buhs

We expect to find Bigfoot in certain places -- on the cover of National Enquirer, as the star of Harry and the Hendersons -- but Joshua Blu Buhs introduces Bigfoot in a place where he’s never been spotted before -- an academic text.

Buhs’s meticulous history of the “wildman” focuses not on proving or disproving Bigfoot’s existence (by the preface we already know Buhs finds the story factually impossible), but on offering a well-researched, definitive history on the creation of the myth. While Buhs gives no new interpretations on Bigfoot’s existence, he does organize one of the most comprehensive, cultural-historical books on the subject.

Most impressive, he creates motives for the obsessive-nature of those who search for the beast. As expected, money and fame prove to be the primary incentives, though on a deeper psychological level, Buhs explores humanity’s need for a “distraction,” as well as a reason to think “about what it means to be human: the contradictions, difficulties, limits, and the glorious wonder of it all.” The legend of Bigfoot created opportunities for both: presenting humankind with what it needed when it needed it most.

Later, Buhs offers additional explanations for our continued fascination with the creature. Despite shoddy evidence mostly confined to footprints or blurry photographs, Buhs acknowledges that many still long for the mystery of the unknown. Bigfoot defies all classification, and the inability to bestow a genus and a species upon the creature only further fueled Bigfoot enthusiasts' curiosity. As Buhs notes, each new sighting was “evidence that the world was not yet fully explored,” giving renewed hope to each enthusiast that he might be the one to uncover one of the last great mysteries of the world. 

Though Buhs dismisses the possibility of Bigfoot’s existence, he does note, “Bigfoot became real” as an integral “part of the cultural landscape that every American knew and recognized.” But as the years went on, mainstream media reduced Bigfoot to a hoax or a punch line, making it nearly impossible to regain any kind of scientific credibility for modern searchers. 

Nevertheless, Buhs admits that Bigfoot enthusiasts do have at least one ace in the hole in terms of the possibility of the creature’s existence. Unlike the Loch Ness monster that was first sighted in 1933 (“uncomfortably late in the day for a beast that was supposed to be a hangover from prehistoric times”) “wildman” sightings go back to The Epic of Gilgamesh. The legend of hairy ape-like creatures roaming the woods has a long documented history, and while the past 40 years have labeled Bigfoot a “sensation" and an “international celebrity,” Buhs makes it quite clear that America’s favorite monster is far from vanishing back into the woods.

Bigfoot: The Life and Times of a Legend by Joshua Blu Buhs
University of Chicago Press
ISBN: 0226079791
304 Pages