As the coronavirus pandemic really began to sweep through America in mid-March, Todd Disotell wondered how he, a biological anthropologist locked in his central Massachusetts home, could help others through what turned out to be a long and brutal crisis.
Then the answer hit him: the six-foot tall bronze statue of Bigfoot that his father had given him for Christmas.
Disotell, a well-known Bigfoot skeptic who is nonetheless cordial to many people who believe in and groups who are looking for the legendary creature (s), moved the statue to the side of the road near his house. He then placed a sign in his hand for drivers to read: North American Social Distancing Champion. Every day, for about seven weeks, he traded the sign for a new shabby public health message, like sasq – wash your hands for at least 20 seconds.
Disotell wasn’t the only one who co-opted Bigfoot in (nerdy) PSA. In late March, park officials in Tulsa, Oklahoma, introduced the Social Distancing Sasquatch, a pandemic safety mascot. Signs rose in Idaho claiming Bigfoot had tested negative for the coronavirus, and explaining how social distancing had helped him do so. On sites like Amazon, Redbubble and Sasquatch Outpost, retailers are currently selling countless shirts and masks, pillows and mugs, featuring Bigfoot and promoting pandemic safety.
Bigfoot’s emergence as an icon of the pandemic can play a valuable – or at least fun – role in disseminating vital information about the resurgence of the pandemic, public health experts have said. But There is a deep irony at the heart of this trend: Many of those who actually believe in Sasquatch do not buy into the science of COVID-19.
Some even continued to hold in-person conventions, raising concerns from super-spreaders.
Bigfoot is ubiquitous, beloved so much in American culture that someone, somewhere will try to link the creature to almost anything in the news. Connecting cryptid to the pandemic was particularly easy, said Joshua Blu Buhs, author and avid skeptic, given the enduring popularity of a meme featuring Bigfoot’s figure and readability. champion hide and seek, which carried directly into the social distancing messages.
Many people apparently made the connection independently, and their new memes took off like wildfire on social media. Local coverage of Disotell’s Bigfoot theft in late April, which garnered a lot of attention online, likely also played a role in popularizing sasquatch messaging. (The statue appeared shortly after going missing, thrown into a yard 30 miles away. Disotell doesn’t know who stole it, or why.)
Cliff Barackman, host of Animal Planet’s Find Bigfoot and curator of the North American Bigfoot Center, believes those stunts and memes have taken off because they bring much-needed levity to otherwise grim discussions about the pandemic. He agrees with this trend, as he believes the light-hearted portrayals will deter people from filming what he believes is a real – and endangered – creature on sight if it comes across one.
But a lot [self-proclaimed Bigfoot] researchers don’t like the use of the sasquatch as a cultural icon, ”he adds. They find these memes tasteless or believe they distort what they claim to be the hard facts they discovered about the creatures.
This is probably why these memes don’t often appear in social media circles believing Bigfoot. “People who really know bigfoot understand that they to do do not social distancing, ”Loren Coleman of the International Museum of Cryptozoology told The Daily Beast.
(“Uh, show me the data for that,” Disotell replies.)
Ryan Howell, the man behind (and inside) Tulsa’s Social Distancing Sasquatch, says more than two million people have only visited their first public health posts. The character has been so popular and the campaign so successful, he adds, he was asked to participate in dozens of other efforts.
Yet author Max Brooks argues that the sincere belief in Bigfoot matches the collapse of shared factual beliefs in America. (Brooks, who has “studied sasquatch all [his] life ”, largely because he said he was terrified of creatures, recently released Devolution, a book about people isolated in their homes by natural disaster and besieged by Bigfeet.) For the 10-25% of Americans who say they buy Bigfoot, their belief is symbolic at best. But outright belief usually means rejection of mainstream science, which of course, does not support the existence of Bigfoot.
The stronger the belief, argue Buhs and others, the more often it dovetails with broader government and scientific conspiracies of wrongdoing – such as COVID-19 trutherism.
“The issues with trying to prove Sasquatch’s existence are the same as we’ve seen with the pandemic,” says Brooks. “Too many people are unwilling to look at the evidence, or try to dismiss it, to move their agendas forward.”
This conspiratorial inclination does not always translate into pandemic skepticism. This spring, Retired baseball star and avid Bigfoot fan, Jose Conseco, made headlines with concerns about the spread of the cryptid virus, which he insisted he had contact with. Sasquatch researcher Tom Sewid also claims he and others tried to scare creatures away from human settlements and encouraged Bigfoot hunters to mask themselves – to protect them from the risk of inter-species transmission.
But insiders and observers of the Bigfoot community of believers recognize a strong tension of pandemic skepticism on the scene. Recent survey data from research firm Civic Science suggests Bigfoot believers are much more likely to take epidemiological risks during the pandemic – and to watch Fox News – than others. Barackman buys these findings, saying they likely reflect the rural and conservative origins of believers and hunters disproportionately.
Most of the biggest Bigfoot conventions and festivals have either been canceled this year or gone digital. One, in McDowell County, North Carolina, looked at champion of social distancing rhetoric when switching to a new format. But many groups still have or plan to hold regional conventions in person. Some are or were entirely outside, and some inside required masking. But many recent or upcoming fully or partially indoor events, like the upcoming Boggy Bottom Bigfoot conference in Coalgate, Oklahoma, which also serves as a fundraiser for a local high school robotics team, have not publicly listed any precautions against COVID-19. (The Daily Beast has contacted the organizers of the Biggy Bottom Bigfoot conference, as well as the organizers of other events without clear information on COVID-19, for comment, but received no response.)
Coleman notes that members of the Bigfoot community have circulated photos of unmasked people at events this year and criticized them for their recklessness. The Minnesota Bigfoot conference – which involved around 50 attendees at Timberlake Lodge in Grand Rapids – ostensibly mandated the site to be worn, but posted several of these photos on their official Facebook page on August 15.
Abe Del Rio, also known as Elusive1, the founder and director of the Minnesota Bigfoot research team, which organized the event, told the Daily Beast that they only took off their masks “briefly, for pose for pictures really fast ”, but kept them for the rest of the event. He added that he had personally made sure there was enough hand sanitizer.
Del Rio was curious as to who had told the Daily Beast about the photos, noting that “it’s really nobody’s business except people who want to get their noses into someone’s business.”
“I think there is something about this pandemic,” he added. “I can name 10 to 15 people I know who have had COVID-19 … But they just feel a little bit shabby during this … They say it was really no worse for them than the common flu . (While some people only contract mild cases, comparisons between COVID-19 and the common flu are inaccurate and misleading at best, and echo the infamous pandemic minimization claims made in recent weeks by COVID-19. American Skeptic-in-Chief.)
The Texas Bigfoot conference, held earlier this month in Jefferson, Texas, also openly said it would opt for a low occupancy event and enforce social distancing and the use of masks. However, photos from this event appear to show the sporadic use of masks by people who often were not socially distanced, despite having sufficient space. They also weren’t, like at the Minnesota conference, apparently posing for pictures, as they were candid shots. The Daily Beast has also reached out to the team behind this event for comment, but had not received a response at the time of publication.
Coleman also concedes – and Sewid and others confirm – that some events this year were hosted by skeptics of the pandemic. “But a lot of people don’t show up for those,” Coleman argued.
Whether or not they are the norm in the community, Lawrence Gostin, an expert in public health law in Georgetown, warned that “indoor gatherings without masks are a perfect storm for mainstream events.
Sewid goes further, claiming that “all those hairless, underdeveloped frontal lobe humans who now go to sasquatch-bigfoot conferences are now a bunch of crazy idiots. He thanks them with a contemptuous air for “having disrespected their fellows and spreading the plague a little more, a little faster”.
Die-hard believers are not common, and unmasked cryptid conventions are not the most serious threat to the health of the United States today. This honor probably goes to the President of the United States. But while Bigfoot culture is playing even a minor role in a new wave of pandemic, parody Bigfoot culture is poised to back down with more constructive health messages.
“My last bigfoot sign was, If you don’t behave, I’ll be back for the second wave”Says Disotell. “Looks like I’m going to start waving again.”
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