Reasonable Doubt

American Monster

Everything you need to know about the mess that is America in 2019 can be explained by our deepening national belief that Bigfoot is real

William Giraldi
GEN
Published in
26 min readFeb 15, 2019

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Illustration: Erlend Peder Kvam

I. Patterson’s Beast

This begins, as it must, in childhood. The year is 1982, and I am six years old, sitting cross-legged on a living room carpet, transfixed by the television. The show I’m watching concerns monsters — no doubt a documentary with a tautology for a title, something similar to Unexplained Mysteries, or else a docudrama kin to In Search Of. What I see in this television program, whatever it’s called, causes all the plates in me to quiver and shift. Something truly tectonic happens. It’s almost — religious.

Across a bleached creek bed, in fluid, calm possession of its hirsute bulk, strides a monster. For a full 50 seconds, it ambles into the woods, obviously set on fleeing whoever has just invaded its domain with a handheld movie camera. At first the footage jolts and quakes, because the invader has arrived on horseback, and upon spotting and smelling the bipedal beast, the horse reared up, chucking its rider. But then the rider finds his feet and poise, and for a few seconds the film settles down. And there, for all the world to witness, is Bigfoot.

I can see her hairless face — Bigfoot is a she, you understandand I can see her buttocks and massive back muscles tense beneath the shine of silken hair. Her smooth swinging-arm gait, part person, part ape. Her chilling shoulder turn, gorilla-like, to glance over at whoever has just interrupted her afternoon. It’s clear that what I’m seeing now is no backwoods bilker in a monkey getup. What I’m seeing now, I intuitively know, reveals every hallmark of an actual animal, and it means something special — very special. It means that monsters exist and that existence is monsterful, as Chaucer employs it: astonishing, extraordinary, shot through with amazement, with the sublime.

What I watched that day was, of course, the footage that for the past several decades has kept the improbable on life support and launched many an awed apostle into the thickets of the American Northwest: the infamous Patterson footage of Bigfoot, filmed by Roger…

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William Giraldi
GEN
Writer for

William Giraldi’s most recent book is American Audacity: In Defense of Literary Daring, and his novel Hold the Dark is now a Netflix film.