Fake News: Disinformation, Deception, and Magical Thinking Over Time

The Wild Man, Big Foot: Why do we want to believe?

The Wild Man may have faded back into the woods of Winsted and out of people's minds, but by the mid-twentieth century, Big Foot emerged as his full-fledged descendant. Big Foot has been sighted all over the world, notably in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, and has gathered a devout following. The Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization, "Founded in 1995 -- The only scientific research organization exploring the bigfoot/sasquatch mystery" collects, catalogs, and maps these sightings and recordings. The BFRO, and the larger Big Foot community, considers Big Foot an undiscovered species. A core component of the BFRO mission is to collect empirical data and physical evidence to conclusively prove the existence of the species. 

In their book Paranormal America: Ghost Encounters, UFO Sightings, Bigfoot Hunts, and Other Curiosities in Religion and Culture, authors Bader et. al review existing research on those who believe in paranormal phenomena. They note a distinction between casual believers and those who actively pursue and study their beliefs. Dedicated pursuers of subjects will delve into research, attend conferences, study first-hand accounts, etc. For Big Foot and other "monsters," the dedicated pursuer is likely to be a younger male, with lower income, and lower church attendance - in fact, low church attendance is a consistent marker among believers of all types of paranormal phenomena. Dedicated pursuers comprises a small portion of the paranormal believers overall, but certainly includes the BFRO community and their stated scientific orientation.

Casual believers on the other hand, generally do not spend time studying their beliefs. The authors explain,"The casual believers we have talked to are relatively uninterested  in and unaffected by the skepticism of the scientific community. For them Bigfoot is simply one more item added to a paranormal shopping cart that includes UFOs, ghosts, and psychic phenomena. It is something that is believed in but rarely inspected. (pg. 137)"

Were the people of Winsted in 1895 essentially "casual believers" who easily ignored what scientists may have said about the Wild Man? If so, it may further explain the rapid and dramatic spread of the Wild Man story and the terror it brought to the region. We can only wonder what other beliefs they held or whether they were regular church-goers who held deep religious convictions. 


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