Fangirl Friday: Fandoms of real world phenomena

Hi, peeps!

So this a few days ago I was running around the West Coast in San Jose, California. Had a blast, and got to hang out with some peeps (shout-out to Blythe Rippon and my Twitter buddy P&V…you know who you are!!!) and also took a short road trip to the coast near Santa Cruz.

And it was there that P&V and I ended up at the Bigfoot Discovery Museum and Project in Felton.

This is a thing. Bigfoot Discovery Museum, Felton, CA
This is a thing. Bigfoot Discovery Museum, Felton, CA

Well, of course I said we need to go and check this out, and P&V, being up for one of my weird adventures, said, “sure!”

So imagine, if you will, a small, cobwebbed space packed full of posters, books, maps, and a bizarre mixture of pop culture shout-outs to Bigfoot over the years along with display cases of things that were allegedly supposed to be “proof” that Bigfoot (or Sasquatch) existed — including giant plaster casts of alleged footprints, bones, and “suspicious” dried poo. P&V remarked that her dog does bigger poos than that, so she remains unconvinced that a 9-foot-tall Sasquatch actually left it. But then, when dealing with things like Bigfoot, you need to suspend some judgment.

For reals.

So I ended up chatting with Mike Rugg (yes, that is his name), one of the founders of said museum, who presents kind of a Santa Claus-ish demeanor. Or maybe the Old Man and the Sea. The jury’s out. (You can find a bio of Mike on the front page of the museum website. Hit the link above.)

Mike Rugg, Bigfoot Discovery Museum
Mike Rugg, Bigfoot Discovery Museum

Anyway, Mike was at the counter in the museum, standing in front of sagging shelves of books about Bigfoot. The walls were plastered with photos and maps. There was one big topo map of the local area and it had different sized and different colored pins denoting Bigfoot sightings in the area by year. I asked Mike about this, and he rattled off a litany of sightings and weird incidents in the area that suggested Sasquatch activity. At one point, he showed me a clump of coarse animal-ish hair in an envelope that someone had brought in the day before.

He also told a story about a local woman who was experiencing a possible Bigfoot in the area and then Mike said, in all seriousness, “turns out her house sits on land that was an animal slaughterhouse a while back. So there are lots of animal sounds up there, but no visible animals.” He said the local ghosthunters had been checking it out, but when she mentioned a Bigfoot-like creature hanging around, they told her to call him.

And that’s wherein my interest in this lies.

First, how cool is it that there are also ghosthunters in the area who send business to the Bigfoot hunters and vice versa? I mean, WHAAAAAT? I love cooperative ventures!

And second, ghosthunters and Bigfoot hunters, my friends, are fandoms. These types of fandoms — what I call the “X-Files” kind in that they involve searching for something in the real world — manifest differently than those of us who geek out over TV shows or movies or comics do, but the fact remains, they are a form of fandom. Those who participate often dedicate a lot of time to the pursuit of their fan interests. They buy lots of equipment to engage, they collect materials about the targets of their fan interests, they keep copious records, they document their outings, they network with others in the fandom around the world, they share information and photos, and they attend events and conferences that cater to their interests.

Listening to Mike talk about the various sightings and the circumstances around them (he’s a great storyteller), and seeing how seriously he took this pursuit (though Bigfoot fandoms will engage in disproving things in their fandom as well as trying to prove them) made me realize that the search for the Sasquatch is basically a fandom.

And I want to make it clear that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with searching for Bigfoot. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with fandoms. Bigfoot hunters may take exception to calling their pursuit a “fandom,” but I don’t mean it as an insult. I suggest it as a way to think about the reasons people engage with aspects of the world around them, and the level of involvement in that engagement. Fandoms, I think, are unique communities in which anyone can participate, based on shared interests in a particular thing.

Mike’s fascination started, he told me, when he saw his first Bigfoot at the age of four while camping with his parents. He was hooked, to the point that he actually dropped out of Stanford because he wanted to write papers on Bigfoot but claims his profs didn’t take his inquiries seriously. So he did other things with his life, but came back to Bigfoot and he’s been there a while, tracking alleged sightings, spending lots of time outdoors, camping in the areas where sightings are reported, and basically ensuring that there’s a record of what he’s doing, seeing, and finding.

This is basically what people do in fandoms. Think about a TV show fandom. Hardcore fans talk about it as much as possible with other fans. They engage in information-gathering about the various elements of the show and the actors within it, share their findings with each other, attend events and gatherings geared toward the show and other TV/movie fandoms, and sometimes create elaborate costumes to do so.

As an example, I found a website in which some enterprising fans had basically mapped/analyzed the world of the post-apocalyptic TV show The 100 based on the Season 2 opening scenes, which they figured out were actually taken from a drone’s eye view — something that figures heavily in Season 2 and later, 3. They realized that the numbers that showed up in conjunction with different views had something to do with people the drones may have been tracking. They corroborated their findings on social media, talking directly with the writers of the show on Twitter and collecting statements said writers and the showrunner had made there and in interviews and included this in their mapping exercise.

Which is not all that different, when you think about it, than documenting Bigfoot sightings.

I thought about that as I listened to Mike talk about things that made sense to him with regard to his Bigfoot hunting and things that didn’t. He’s approaching this Bigfoot stuff with skepticism and a scientifically-inclined methodology, but also optimism that he’ll be able to prove the existence of Bigfoot. Pretty sure he falls in the “I want to believe” camp.

And when you get right down to it, we all want to believe in something. Those of us who engage in fandoms based on TV shows, movies, books, and comic books — don’t we want to believe that a world like what we see presented in them is possible? That characters like the ones we follow could exist? Those who engage in Bigfoot hunting certainly want to believe that such a being exists.

So the next time you’re out and about and you come across something like a Bigfoot museum, stop in. You never know who you might meet or what you might learn.

Happy Friday, happy reading, happy writing, and happy seeking.

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6 thoughts on “Fangirl Friday: Fandoms of real world phenomena

  1. This article caught my eye because my brothers (who live in PA) and my nephew (who lives here in Ohio) are avid Bigfoot hunters and they all swear they’ve seen him…in PA, in Ohio; you name it. I have other relatives and acquaintances who are ghost hunters so I can relate on that aspect too. These fandoms are out there and they are quite active.

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  2. Again, I’m not sure that ghost hunters or Bigfoot hunters would approve of being called “fandoms,” but it did strike me (since I tend to participate in a variety of fandoms) that there are similarities between those who engage in things like, say, ghost hunting offline and those who engage in, say The 100 fandom(s) online. Hey, as long as nobody’s getting hurt, HAPPY GHOST- and BIGFOOT-HUNTING!

    Thanks for stopping by.

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  3. I think you’re brilliant, Andi, the way you connect unconnectable ideas, think outside the box AND the circle, all the while entertaining and teaching. Thanks for your writing.

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  4. Hi, Lee! OMG, at the risk of sounding a little nutty, I’m totally fangirling over YOU right now. Thank you SO MUCH for reading this here blog thingie I do and yowza, I really appreciate that you join me on my ramblings when you can. Hope all is well with you and yours and a little birdie told me there are some OTHER good Bigfoot things to see and do in your neck of the woods (see what I did there?). Like this. And this makes me kind of giggle, but it’s kind of weird, too. I mean, really? And for pure unadulterated kitsch value, here. And if you want to go look…here. hee hee!

    Thanks again, Lee!

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