Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Call of the Weird by Louis Theroux

I hadn't heard of Louis Theroux when I was sent this book. Subtitled "Travels in American Subcultures," the book is actually a followup to Theroux's work on documentaries and TV series like "Louis' Weird Weekends" and "When Louis Met..." I've since found a few things on YouTube. Theroux is charismatic and funny. In his shows, he seems to let the people he meets just be their odd selves without trying to force funny into the situation.

And apparently, Theroux likes a lot of the people he meets. That is the inspiration behind the book. He decides to take a "Reunion Tour" of people he met on his documentaries. He travels around the country trying to find the people he once talked to and see where they are now. He looks for Thor Templar, the UFO believer who claims he's killed 20 aliens. He looks for porn star J.J. Michaels. He talks to Ike Turner and pimp/rapper Mello T.

In many cases, these people have moved on. J.J. Michaels is working for Boeing and no longer does movies, though he still keeps a box of his films in the basement and says he'd like to do it again. Thor Templar has changed his name, dropped UFO business and is now selling items for "technoshamans." Theroux reunites with an Aryan Nations member he had bonded with over "Are You Being Served." The racist had been kicked out of the club for some obscure reasons. He meets with a former prostitute who's now found god, but still considers going back to the business.

In all his stories, there seems to be a theme of fantasy meeting reality. People seek out a fantasy, or follow the fantasies in their head, and later find out that the world is not always accepting or tolerant of their views. Many of these people find their worldviews don't hold up to the test, yet they blithely continue believing.

In the foreword to the American edition, Theroux says his aim is different from those authors who seek to follow, in Garrison Keillor's words, "the classic Freaks, Fatties, Fanatics & Faux Culture Excursion beloved of European journalists." He hopes to go more in depth, to see how people's lives turned out. I'm afraid he didn't entirely succeed. The book still seems like a tourist's view of typical American crazies and loudmouths. But what does save it is Theroux's actual interest in these people. He might think they are funny or crazy, but from his words you can see that he actually feels for them. He wants them to do well, to make a little corner of the world for themselves.

The book is a charming travelogue of unusual people encountering a more bland world. It doesn't offer profound insights, but it does offer a good time.

1 comment:

nietzschean-ghost said...

Wilde said that people could not be defined as good or evil, just boring and interesting.

If you get a chance and you can find one, download one of the whole Theroux episodes. I don't know if the entire episodes were on Youtube, but if you only watch clips of it, you wont see how he grows a friendship and understands the people he meets better. He shows they are only human like ourselves with different flaws.