14 May 2007

Show interest in your local "Cryptid" economy

Your first question, upon arriving at any remote village or town in a tranquil and scenic area, should be: "Do you have a Lake Monster or a Big Ape Monster?" If there is no large body of water nearby (but really, any stream will do) the question might seem superfluous, but it's always polite to ask. It shows you have an interest in the local economy.

Of course, not every village will have one or the other. A few have some unique beasties that don't fit into either category. Ask this question in Pine Barrens, NJ, and you'll mostly likely get this answer: "Nah, we got a horse-bat-sheep-kangaroo monster." You'll probably bust a gut and hurt yourself rolling the on the ground laughing before you realize they're dead serious. But I kid New Jersey.

(My own confession: my first attempt at writing a screenplay as a misguided college kid was a horror movie about the Jersey Devil. It's the only long form work of mine I have purposely lost. I don't have a copy of it anywhere—if I can't find it, that means nobody else can either and I'm saved from eternal embarrassment.)

Ah, cryptids. What would local folklore and the "New Age" section of our bookstores be without them? Loch Ness Monster, Big Foot, Yeti, Champ, Morag, Skunk Ape, Fouke Monster, Dover Demon, Chupacabra, and J. D. Salinger. Those mystery animals that defy easy explanation, clear photographs (even in an age where everyone is armed with a digital camera phone), logic, and mounds of evidence that they do not exist. Or more exactly, lack of mounds of evidence that they do exist. Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster have been pretty much conclusively dismissed by the scientific community: they do not exist. But people go on believing in them anyway. Why? 'Cuz it's fun man.

I was definitely a ful convert to cryptozoology as a little kid. I loved the Loch Ness Monster, and could recite from memory all the major sightings and theories. I remember getting a book about "Nessie" in my hot and sweaty hands at a third grade book fair—what a glorious day! I wasn't so hot on Bigfoot, but he did get his fair share of time. I also dug up some books on the rarer cryptids: Thunderbirds, the Jersey Devil, the tazlewurm, and legends of hundred foot snakes in the Amazon. (Thankfully, the documentary Anaconda proved beyond a doubt the existence of these creatures, and also that John Voight is the master of the "where the hell's he from?" accent.) If it was a mysterious monster someone said they saw once by the light of the Scottish/Indonesian/Appalachian moon, I'd believe it.

Now I'm a hardcore skeptic and adherent to science, losing any solid support for most cryptids by the time I was in college. Fantasy for me lives in the novels I read and write. But I still get a kick out of reading about cryptids and the arguments between small coteries of fringe adherents over their existence. Wikipdedia pages often erupt into hysterical flame-wars over "evidence" for cryptids. The Bigfoot page, in particular, was the sight of a woeful conflict between serious Wikipedians and a fringe-theorist who even fringe-theorists think is off the deep end. It doesn't matter how many studies show the unlikelihood of the existence of an undiscovered race of enormous hairy hominids in Oregon or a plesiosaur in a freshwater Scottish Lake. People will still believe in them. 'Cuz it's fun, man. Hey, I don't believe them, and even I think they're fun.