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The Commercialization of Bigfoot: Culture, Consumerism, and Cryptozoology

Something strange is going on in Round Rock Park in Central Texas, and according to parks and recreational officials, it has to do with something large and hairy, that leaves manlike footprints as it comes and goes at night.

However, if this sounds like the latest “Bigfoot” report coming out of the Lone Star State in the last few years, think again.

A recent report on what’s going on at the park, featured at TCWNews.com, read as follows:

A note to parents, parks and rec officials say this is all in good fun, but they are calling on kids to help them get to the bottom of this mystery.

If kids manage to find evidence of Bigfoot, they are encouraged to take pictures and share them with Round Rock Parks and Recreation.

Similar articles appearing online (like this one) offered vague encouragement for people to participate in the publicity stunt, which appeared to be aimed at drumming up some attention at the park as the summer months approach.

The notion of Bigfoot hunting in this sort of setting being “all in good fun” may sound unfamiliar to some, though it actually represents one of the most popular–and perplexing–cultural aspects of the creature’s alleged existence over the course of the last half-century: the commercialization of Bigfoot.

Arguably one of the most interesting academic papers dealing with the subject of Bigfoot to come out in years, Joshua Blu Buhs’ 2011 essay, Tracking Bigfoot Through 1970s North American Children’s Culture: How Mass Media, Consumerism, and the Culture of Preadolescence Shaped Wildman Lore, appeared in the Spring 2011 edition of the journal Western Folklore, a journal of the Western States Folklore Society. In it, the author discusses how kids during the 1970s, “did not fret over consumerism but adapted to it, using Bigfoot to help them fit into the world.”

In his paper, Buhs wrote:

“In these groups, young Bigfoot fans mastered a body of arcane knowledge, one that parents thought was meaningless—even silly—and one that mainstream culture often ridiculed as well, allowing them to develop in their own space, guided only by their curiosity and a few distant adults.”

Of course, what this addresses isn’t the actual possible existence of a creature like Bigfoot, but how the creature, rather than being some kind of bogeyman, instead helped kids take a folkloric approach to adapting to consumerism in America (you can read more about Buh’s article here).

It seems that in modern times, rather than having the sort of “cult” following that Bigfoot had back in the 1970s and 80s, Bigfoot’s most prevalent aspects have to do with the building on this commercial element of the subject. Decades ago, with at least some fairly credible books written by intrepid outdoorsmen the likes of Ivan Sanderson, Peter Byrne, and a handful of others, pursuit of the mystery was something that was indeed taken seriously by some; even the television programs that aired stories on the subject, most notably shows like Alan Landsburg’s In Search Of… , offered what appeared to at least be a more sincere treatment of the subject than many of its modern counterparts.

Today, Bigfoot appears in theatrical movies, in addition to a few highly sensational television shows (which, in truth, are at times difficult to differentiate from their theatrical counterparts). There are still some good books that appear occasionally too, although the “consumer culture” does seem to have truly taken control of the mass-marketing and promotion of Bigfoot, whether it be on television network programming, or as we see at Round Rock Park in Texas, the repurposing of Bigfoot as a vehicle for educating children and getting them excited about doing things outdoors in the summer.

Somewhere in the midst of this new cultural idea that has become our concept of “Bigfoot”, it is easy to forget that, back in “the good old days”, there were people who at least took the subject seriously enough to lend time, effort, and even their hard-earned dollars toward the cause of trying to solve what they perceived as one of the greatest mysteries of our time.

Whether or not there is anything of substance to it all seems to be of little concern any longer… boy how things change!

 

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Micah Hanks is a writer, podcaster, and researcher whose interests cover a variety of subjects. His areas of focus include history, science, philosophy, current events, cultural studies, technology, unexplained phenomena, and ways the future of humankind may be influenced by science and innovation in the coming decades. In addition to writing, Micah hosts the Middle Theory and Gralien Report podcasts.
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