Hello, and welcome to ‘The Wrong Side of TV’; where I take a deep breath of fresh, clean, Netflix/Amazon soaked air, and reluctantly dive into the Utumno-esque (apologies but I am currently reading The Silmarillion) bowels and caverns of TV – the kind that has been discarded and left, dusty and forgotten, in the halls of oblivion; like old photographs, or that squeaky penguin toy from Toy Story 2. This sort of TV hasn’t evolved in over a decade, and the paradigm shift with regards to the rise of Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu hasn’t affected these shows at all. It kind of reminds me of that soldier who was found, hunkered down in a Vietnamese jungle, having not realised that the war had ended over forty years ago.
In this edition of The Wrong Side of TV, we shall examine Destination America/Discovery Channel’s Mountain Monsters: a show where a group of large West-Virginian men, armed to the beard with shotguns, bear traps, and rifles, try to hunt and capture arcane creatures.
Before I got my trousers off, the show began with loud swoosh effects, thrash-metal-speed drumming, extremely dramatic dialogue extracts from the scenes to come, and more perennially American rapid cuts than a cocaine-addled Edward Scissorhands, in an old-school editing suite. I had no clue what was going on, but I knew that there was much excite. Before you go and assume that these guys are just your stereotypical, shotgun-wielding rednecks, the team of “professionals” consist of Trapper (the team leader, who looks like a bearded, anthropomorphised bloodhound), Buck (an “expert caller”, the round-faced boy of the group), Huckleberry (who is “security”, and just looks like a younger version of Trapper), Jeff (a “researcher” whose sole qualification for the role is that he owns a notepad and pencil), Willy (a Lemmy from Motörhead look-alike whose job as “trap maker” makes one wonder whether or not there’s an undercurrent of resentment from Willy throughout the series directed at Trapper as to why Willy isn’t known as ‘Trapper’ instead), and finally Wild Bill (an “expert tracker” whose character is so OTT redneck that it makes Buck and Huckleberry seem like a couple of subdued Hugh Grants).
The team are riding along in a 4×4 and some helpful exposition occurs – including an odd aside whereby Buck, for no apparent reason, describes the seating positions of each member in the car; a young lad, but evidently fastidious to a fault. Their self-proclaimed quest is to “prove that Bigfoot exists”. Epistemologically, this poses more questions than answers. It is clear via this exposition that this episode is merely a single thread in a vast tapestry of Bigfoot encounters and adventures that these mandem have experienced. In other words, these guys are certain that Bigfoot exists, and are convinced that they’ve seen Bigfoot many times before. Usually when someone tries to investigate the existence of something by searching for proof, then it means that they don’t necessarily accept that the claim is true, but will follow the evidence where it leads before they make up their mind. For the AIMS crew (Appalachian Investigators of Mysterious Sightings), they begin with the assertion that Bigfoot exists, and then attempt find and present evidence they encounter. However, they don’t seem to be saying “We know that Bigfoot exists, we are just trying to prove it to the viewers at home” but more like “We encountered Bigfoot so many times, we are finally close to proving that he exists” – which, as you can see, seems like they are confused as to what concept of ‘knowledge’ is. Naysayers might accuse these fine scholars of committing various logical fallacies such as confirmation bias (“I’m looking for Bigfoot. Look! A marking on a tree! Bigfoots must mark trees for some reason. Evidence!”), or begging the question (“Bigfoot must exist because Bigfoot lives in forests, we’re in a forest, Bigfoot makes noises, we heard a noise, so it must be Bigfoot”). However, couldn’t one argue that they are so convinced that Bigfoot exists, that the danger of making fallacious arguments on their journey is of little concern to them? Pretty compelling stuff.
With regards to the tapestry analogy, keen-eyed Huckleberry briefly discusses their progress in what seems to be an ongoing saga of investigating Bigfoot. However, to demonstrate how out-of-the-loop I, and others who are new to Mountain Monsters are (Wake up, Sheeple!), Buck casually throws out the pronoun “they” when describing Bigfoot. Whilst there is a slight chance that Buck, a West-Virginian, Bigfoot-hunting, yee-hawing Monster hunter was attempting to not presume gender by using gender neutral pronouns with regards to an unconfirmed mythological creature, it’s more likely that Buck just nonchalantly mentioned that not only is there more than one Bigfoot, but that there are “clans” of them. I shit you not.
(Pictured: ‘Trapper’; the leader of the group. Droopy hat not included)
No time for the socio-political history of Bigfoot clans now, for the team are currently hunting down a specific Bigfoot known as ‘The Stonish Giant’. Researcher Jeff elucidates the history of the beast, and how the Iroquois Indians in the 1500s were frequently attacked by him. “Sounds like he’s a pretty bad dude!” exclaims Buck; as always veracious but succinct.
They meet their first eyewitness in the forest. After some classic banter about beards, the tone suddenly shifts ominously as John – the eyewitness – describes his tale of his Bigfoot encounter to the incredibly enthralled AIMS team. The crux of it being that John, during a hunt, heard a gunshot behind him, followed by ground shaking, and Bigfoot breathing down his neck – at which point it roared and ran the hell out of there. “When you saw the tracks it made, did you take note of its stride?” asks Jeff, the Appalachian Sherlock. Apparently John noticed that the tracks implied the Stonish Giant could be dragging a leg, perhaps injured. “Well, we’re gonna get into that forest, and look for this damned Bigfoot!” declares Trapper; cue surprised cheers by the team – as though this plan had been newly formed.
It’s the witching hour, and the lads have began a nighttime investigation in the woods. In the midst of the harrowing realisation that an injured Bigfoot will be unpredictable, “cranky”, and their lives will be imminent danger, Buck decides to crack a joke about being used to cranky, old creatures – nodding towards Trapper. This levity could imply that they know that there’s absolutely no chance they’re in danger due to the non-existence of Bigfoot, or it exhibits shear bravery and defiance. It’s a shame however that the cameramen’s talents don’t reach the Icarus-esque heights of the team they are filming, because the moment the team jump into action, swing their shotguns in one direction screaming “HE’S THERE! HE’S THERE!” whilst a lion-like roar (that sounds curiously like stock audio) is heard off-screen, the cameramen – for some strange reason – don’t bother filming the Bigfoot, and instead focus on the team’s reaction to seeing him. Perhaps, in the panic of the moment, the cameramen weighed the pros and cons and decided that the audience at home would prefer to watch four bearded men shouting than seeing one of the most fey and sought after mythological beasts of all time; a decision I feel that was slightly misguided, and future cinematographers will cite as a classic error in the history of documentaries.
We’re then introduced to Wild Bill. He’s basically the drill Sergeant from Full Metal Jacket but looks like Hank from Breaking Bad. Him and Willy decide to work together to built a gigantic snare trap “to capture this here big bully”. Intense as he is, you certainly can’t criticise Bill’s pep, zip, and go.
(Pictured: Wild Bill after being informed that the ‘Stonish Giant’ is 9-10 ft tall. That won’t stop him)
The main crew talk to their second eyewitness; a taxidermist called Russ. Russ informs them that a hunter brought in a buck to his place, only to be told that the hunter saw Bigfoot and shot him. The amazing thing about these guys is that, despite encountering Bigfoot multiple times and tracking “clans” all over Appalachia, when an eyewitness tells them about seeing Bigfoot, the four of them stare – mouths hanging open, astoundaghast, and exclaim “Dayum” or “Holy shit!” – as though the very concept of Bigfoot is new to them. Obviously they want to make Russ feel special about his story, which is rather sweet and endearing.
We discover throughout this episode that Bigfoot, or rather Bigfoots (and no, it’s not ‘Bigfeet’) have various abilities of which us ignorant, sheltered laymen are simply unaware . Firstly, they build “tree structures” – the kind that you would make in secondary school camp, and that they do this “in the same way that dogs piss on trees”. Secondly, it seems that their blood doesn’t coagulate and dry out, despite being exposed to the elements for days, and has the colour, wetness, and consistency of red paint that has just been splattered on the leaves moments before the team and cameramen found it. It’s bizarre. Another alleged ability is that Bigfoots can mysteriously transform all modern phone cameras that spot them into poorly maintained super 8 cameras from 1970. What a time to be alive!
After the team are shown this truck-sized snare trap made by Willy and Bill, they decide to go for another nighttime hunt for this injured Bigfoot in the hope that they can corral the creature towards their trap. Unfortunately, things do not go to plan. After yet another close encounter (where the cameramen, in a fashion you could describe as stubborn, insisted upon filming just the guys as they panicked and swore when the Bigfoot approached them, roared, and scarpered), they hear a distant gunshot up ahead. “We’ve got to go over to the gunshot, and find out what the hell they’re are shooting at, and why they’re shooting!”. It seems that it would be best to leave the complexities of deduction to Jeff, Willy. In short: Stay. In. Your. Lane.
They pursue in the direction of the gunfire, only to see – and I’m not kidding – a group of people, clad in white forensic boiler suits, in a gully or glen – dragging a large, body-bagged entity over to a trailer. Apparently, these individuals have been following the AIMS team on all of their adventures, and have inconveniently snatched Bigfoot, and a myriad of other mythical creatures they hunt, away to some unknown location just as they are about to capture the aforementioned creature. As this unknown team below hear the disgruntled complaints of the AIMS team above, they begin to scurry to their cars and trucks. The team decide enough is enough, and charge down the steep slopes towards them, shotguns raised to the heavens. “These sons o’bitches better run fast, and ride hard ’cause let me tell you if I catch up with ’em, I’m gonna open a great, big can of whoop-ass on ’em – Huckleberry style!” growls Huckleberry to the camera in a talking head. But alas, the unknown team manage to escape Huckleberry’s wrath, and as Huckleberry glumly puts away his can of whoop-ass back into his backpack, alongside his compass and Bovril, the AIMS squad comb over the area for the remnants of their great hunt that was so cruelly stolen away – like how Melkor killed Finwë and stole the Silmarils? It’s like that isn’t it? Amirite? (again, sorry).
(Pictured: This rival team dragging the Bigfoot onto a trailer. This shits all over the occasional creak you hear on Most Haunted.)
In the debrief, the boys keep their hairy chins up and plan to regroup, and hunt down this rival team that took their prize away. Willy, yet again, says the curiously mind-boggling sentiment that they’re “not gonna give up” and that they’re gonna “find the truth about whether Bigfoot exists”. The show attempts to convey that they’ve A. Met corroborating eyewitnesses, B. Found Bigfoot tracks, C. Found Bigfoot blood, D. Heard Bigfoot, C. Seen Bigfoot, D. Seen Bigfoot’s body taken away. Despite this, Willy wants to “find the truth about whether Bigfoot exists”. To reiterate, he – nor any of the AIMS team – is sceptical; they all think that Bigfoot exists. Nor are they attempting to prove it to the audience. They are somehow simultaneously convinced when it comes to the existence of Bigfoot, and have encountered Bigfoot many times, but are investigating Bigfoot as though they’ve never found any compelling evidence and have no idea as to whether he exists or not. It’s an astounding example of doublethink or cognitive dissonance. It would be like your friend informing you that Monster Munch has brought back its Vanilla flavour, you finding an empty packet of it on the road, seeing someone eat a pack of it on the street, seeing adverts of it on TV and Youtube, and then going to the shops only to find that it’s not there at that moment, shrugging and then saying “Monster Munch Vanilla? I want to go out there and find the truth about whether it’s is back or not”. It’s bizarre. In this sense, I have no clue what “truth” they are trying to convey, regardless of all the bullshit. They are presenting bullshit, OTT evidence, but are reacting to it as though it’s all still a mystery, whilst insisting that it isn’t.
I have no clue whether this show is trying to be a Louis Theroux documentary or Brasseye. All I know is, to get through it, I would recommend two bottles of Jack Daniel’s Winter Jack. One isn’t enough. Trust me.