Louis Theroux – ‘The Call Of The Weird’

Books February 20, 2015

Once upon a time, when I was still at university, this blog had a series entitled ‘1 Book, 1 Week’. Despite the best of intentions, ‘1 Book, 1 Week’ failed, primarily because I failed to read that one book in the one week. So, let’s begin again, and scrap that title. From now on, let’s just refer to the reading of books as ‘bookage’, so I can write the sentence ‘This week (or month) I had a bookage’, and I can snigger into my tea with a bit of self-satisfaction (I’m lame).

Either way, this is going a bit off tangent.

This first bit of bookage I have for you actually took me a stupidly long time to finish reading. I started it in November, acquiring it as a bit of a time-slayer for a train ride back home from Manchester (my boyfriend, myself and a friend had been to see The Knife in one of their final shows, but that spectacle in itself requires its own entire post, and I’m still not sure that I’m ready to fully comprehend what I saw…). I didn’t finish it until early January, and I’ve failed to complete this post before today. This is more of an insight to my commitment to reading as opposed to the content of the book. If you are not familiar with Louis Theroux and his brand of journalism, let me introduce you.

'The Call Of The Weird'

‘The Call Of The Weird’

As a decade, the ’90’s was unjustifiably odd. Platform boots and dresses made out of Union Jack tea cloths. Brown lip liner and gold lipstick. White boy bands dressed as ‘boyz from da hood’. Clueless provided a social commentary for the young whilst the youngest play with female Power Ranger dolls that, if you looked closely at the TV screen, actually had man-parts. It was Buffy, and Toy Story, The Sixth Sense and Godzilla. It was Oasis vs. Blur. We touched the turn of the millennia, the world failed to end, though The Matrix gave Keanu Reeves’ career a good boot in the rear. In retrospect, Louis Theroux can be best described – in the most complimentary way possible – as journalism’s contribution to the ’90s trash. It was daring of subject, confrontational, but above all, it remained smart, all of which was only possible thanks to the nerdy, awkward and likeable ‘everyman’ that is Theroux.

Beginning with Louis Theroux and The Ultra Zionists (ultra-nationalist Jewish settlers) and moving onto Weird Weekends (1998-2000) and When Louis Met… (2000-2002), Theroux has made his career in exposing what the masses would class as society’s dissident groups, often integrating into their homes and lives to explore what makes them click. Weird Weekends sees Theroux meet all manner of America’s “outsiders” – namely the people who the majority of conventional society wish were a rumour and not a reality. From porn stars to UFO enthusiasts, neo-Nazis to swingers, Theroux often succeeds in immersing himself so fully into their subcultures (eg. he joins a porn casting agency) that he can unveil some of what makes his subjects tick.

The Call Of The Weird itself sees Louis revisit some of the subjects previously encountered in his TV show, namely alien residence commander Thor Templar, porn star JJ Michaels, survivalist Mike Cain, a prostitute named Haley, Jerry Gruidi of Aryan Nations, pimp turned rapper Mello T, Oscody – a survivor of mass suicide ascenders, Heaven’s Gate, hypnotist Marshall Sylver and Lamb and Lynx, the two young twins who sing White Nationalist songs. He also catches up with Ike Turner, musician and the husband of renowned performer Tina Turner, whom he had originally interviewed in an uncompleted episode of the series.

What follows the pretence is a mixed experience; narrated in Theroux’s unmistakable idiolect and speckled with his humour throughout, the reading of The Call Of The Wild is thoroughly enhanced when being somewhat familiar with its Weird Weekends subjects. It allows the reader to delve into the next chapter of their lives, to discover if their eccentricities or unconventional ways of life have truly allowed them any happiness, to see if their faith in what they have has wavered or if their beliefs have been challenged. Some have abandoned their former ways altogether, and seeing a more rational side to them reminds that we should not judge the prior situations that make have them take the paths that they choose. Oftentimes, it can be shocking, and at others, surprisingly endearing. Even Louis himself feels a more “human” entity, when the camera is removed from the situation, confessing a crisis of confidence in the research he is pursuing (and even the hardest of souls would wince when he realises he has lost his laptop).

The Call Of The Wild is – despite my tardiness – a compelling read. Theroux’s affable voice spurring the reader through the pages of his road trip, and, whilst the experience is no doubt heightened with prior knowledge, it is by no means a must, as he recounts the highs, lows and histories of prior meetings with his subjects with an unprecedented lack of cynicism alongside his emotional honesty, becoming surprisingly attached to the people he meets along the way. Whilst it may not be the optimal place to dive into Louis Theroux’s work, it makes a nice addition and is – so far – his only book to date. If you have never watched the aforementioned Weird Weekends, When Louis Met…, or his TV specials ,I cannot recommend enough that you do. What’s better, all of this is available on Netflix. Yup, you heard. So go watch. NOW.

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