Monday, 15 June 2009

The Call of the Weird

I am attempting to read more non-fiction and I'm averaging about one book a month so far this year, which I'm happy with. When I spied Louis Theroux's The Call of the Weird: Travels in American Subcultures in the library last month I knew it was the perfect choice as my boyfriend and I were conducting a Louis Theroux marathon and watched all of his documentaries back-to-back. Once we had finishied our viewingI read this follow-up book by Louis where he sought out some of his subjects -sometimes up to seven years after they had been interviewed- to discover how they were faring and if they were still involved in the subculture that made them "weird".

Louis Theroux is a British-American journalist, son of travel writer and novelist Paul Theroux, who was given his first TV break by the political and often controversial filmmaker, Michael Moore. Louis has a smiliar style to Moore, of quasi documentary and Gonzo journalism. His travels in American marginalised subcultures, on the fringes of society, were aired in the UK with the title "Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends" and featured groups of people ranging from UFO hunters to Porn Starts to White Supremacists.

The documentaries themselves were eccentric, as well as the subjects, and his approach ironic, witty, and often introspective. I was curious how this would translate to written form but it was as if I was reading Louis's own voiceover script for one of the episodes. He is even more introspective in words and meditates upon the nature of weird and how his and our voyeurism and consumption of weird contributes to society's overall weirdness.

Some of the subject matter and the people are far from just a source of amusement but are intensely thought-provoking. The book delves deeper into the disturbing nature of these subcultures and the harm done to the participants. Often the people Louis has gone to seek out are the ones he was most concerned by and their follow-up stories are sad; Louis documents and evokes the decline of their lives, their loneliness, their disturbing beliefs. Not only are these -the TV documentaries and book- an insight into fringe societies but they are a comment upon society as a whole, as a composite of weirdness.


farmlanebooks said...

I love Louis Theroux on TV, so this sounds great.

I also really enjoyed reading Marcel Theroux's book 'Paperchase' last year. I think he's their cousin. That family has a talented author streak running through it!

Rebecca said...

I'm glad that his voice comes over as well in print - I thought the documentaries were excellent, and was impressed by how objective he remained while asking very personal and provocative questions.

Paperback Reader said...

Jackie, I looked up Marcel Theroux and they are actually brothers! Their cousin is the actor Justin Theroux. I will need to look out for the book.

Rebecca, he is indeed provocative and insightful.

I really enjoyed the documentaries and look forward to more (he is currently contracted for a few more with the BBC).