The Air at the Top of the Bottle

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Bigfoot Meets Mozart

November 26th, 2008 · 2 Comments

(I delivered something like the following at an event called “Bigfoot Night,” curated by Kevin Maher and Meg Sweeney Lawless, at the Sci Fi Screening Room in NYC, 11/17/08.)


Yes, Virginia, there is a Bigfoot; and he touched the life of young Mozart.

But first, I have to grouse a bit about the reductive dualism that poisons our enjoyment of weirdo subjects here in the US.  Too many people are eager to divide us all into two factions: believers and debunkers.  Supposedly the believers dogmatically accept everything paranormal, and the debunkers dogmatically reject it.

But there’s a third bunch, who might point out that dogma itself is a vice, not a virtue; and who prefer to practice the old Greek trick of suspending judgment when there’s not enough evidence.  We might not be convinced that Bigfoot is a live and stinking manimal; but still see no reason to ridicule the poor people who say they saw, let alone smelled, the awful thing.  We might even be more interested in the myth than the reality; or in our perception of that myth; or even in our perception of that perception.

This attitude used to be called skepticism, before the pseudo-skeptics, the debunkery boys, trampled all its pretty posies into scientism, and made its fairness foul.  It’s sad, but that’s language for you.

So, call us what you will: Forteans, Pyrrhonists, anti-Aristotelians, anythingarians, discordians.  Call us what you will; but come, let us Bigfoot together.

So — in any Bigfoot sighting, we have at least three ingredients: an unreliable observor, a puzzling observee (or Bigfootish thing), and a cultural filter.

The observor I call unreliable because he or she is using human perception, interpretation, and reason; none of it worth more than half a cup of dingleberries on a hot summer day.

The Bigfootish thing could be many things, some more likely than others: an unknown primate, a surviving Neanderthal, a bear, a tramp, a sick or deformed bear or tramp (Nature does, after all, produce freaks, sports, and one-offs), a hoaxer, a hunter in a ghillie suit (a shaggy camouflage get-up), an extraterrestrial, an ultraterrestrial (a quasi-physical being), an elemental (to occultists, a being that lives in one of the elements), a tulpa (to some Buddhists, a being produced by thought), a demon, a hypnagogic dream, a temporal lobe seizure, a chemical or electronic hallucination.

And between them is the cultural filter, which will determine which options our poor popeyed witness finds most plausible.  This is where the dogma chimes in: the less prejudiced the witness, the more likely he or she is to base interpretation on data, not cut data to fit interpretation.

And the complex history of Bigfoot is part of that filter.  Bigfoot might not exist in the biological sense of the word, but certainly does as a cultural force; in the same way as other mythical entities like Santa Claus, Pope Joan, the brontosaurus, Jesus Christ, or Yosemite Sam.  And the myth of Bigfoot is unusually persistent and international: Sasquatch to Amerinds, Yeti to Tibetans, Yowie to Aussies.  To Brits he was the wild man, the wodehouse, the woodwose.  To Germans he was the mountain man, the Harzmann: a shaggy, half-human hominid with a club, who often pops up in old prints and carvings.

In fact, the Harzmann was used in the watermark of the Lengfelden paper mill back in the 18th century.  In further fact, this paper was used by Leopold Mozart in making music notebooks for his children.  And so it was, Virginia, that the young Wolfgang Amadeus wrote his first pieces over a translucent picture of this Bigfootish thing.

And now, no doubt, Bigfoot and Mozart will get shuttled into another dualism: the primitive and the refined, the damned and the canonical, the paranormal beast and the supernormal genius.  We draw a line with our dirty little finger in the roiling sea, and insist everything on one side is the opposite of the other.  And the sea roils on.

As for me, in my hypnagogic wool-gathering, I see Mozart, Bigfoot, and the rest of earth’s paranormals, hypernormals, ultranormals, antinormals and extranormals join hands and lift their voices to the old Bonzo Dog Band tune, “We are normal, and we want our freedom.”

It’s a reasonable request.  I want my freedom too, so I’m going to go away now.  Thanks for your attention, and happy Bigfooting.

(Posted by Doug Skinner)

Tags: Animals · Belief Systems · Education · Forteana · Music

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 grouch // Nov 29, 2008 at 2:10 am

    yes, Doug….all the sightings have at least one thing in common..somebody SAW something!..and for me, I will keep on wondering just what they saw…

  • 2 Doug // Nov 30, 2008 at 2:59 pm

    Well, the world is full of surprises, and is always changing. Maybe we’ll find out. Meanwhile, the best we can do is to try to keep our minds and eyes open.

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