May 20, 2015

The Call of the Weird: Travels in American Subcultures, by Louis Theroux

In the late 1990s, Brit Louis Theroux was working for the BBC making documentaries about the strange and interesting members of some American subcultures, such as Neo-Nazis, porn actors, and UFO believers. Ten years later, Theroux decided to try and track down some of his subjects and find out how their lives had changed. Implicit in this is the question (and hope?) of whether they somehow decided to be "less weird." It's an interesting subject and an interesting book, but rather amorphous. The interviews shed light on some very dark corners of America, but there is little to string them together. And I don't know that I like his usage of the word "weird." Eccentric, maybe, or liminal, would perhaps describe these people a little better.

Several times, Theroux claims to like these people, despite their glaring flaws. Now, it's one thing to like someone despite the fact that, say, they like My Little Pony a little too much. It's another thing entirely to like someone who believes Jews rule the world and are in league with Satan and that all races other than whites are subhuman. That, to me, speaks of a deep-seated wrongness within someone, and it's a little dismaying to have Theroux expressing how nice a guy someone is despite, you know, the vicious and paranoid racial hatred. The book is fun and interesting, but I can't say I learned much from it, and it seems to really be an exercise for Theroux that he happened to decide on making into a book because he's a journalist and that's what he should do.

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