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The Call of the Weird: Travels in American…
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The Call of the Weird: Travels in American Subcultures (2005)

by Louis Theroux

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6201824,230 (3.36)6
For ten years, Louis Theroux has been making programmes about off-beat characters on the fringes of US society. Now he revisits America and the people who have most fascinated him to try and discover what motivates them, why they believe the things they believe, and what has happened since he last saw them.… (more)

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» See also 6 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
Louis Theroux makes documentaries about subjects i find fascinating, though his movies always end up making me feel a little queasy. I don't know if it's my latent journalism muscle or simply the same cringe-twinge that you might get from an average episode of The Office, but there's almost always at least one moment, after he's gone in-depth with his subjects and gotten them to expose more honesty than you'd really expect, that he says something off.

The first time I noticed this was when I watched The Most Hated Family in America, a documentary about the Westboro Baptist Church's founding family back before they were individually famous (e.g., People knew the church was full of hateful bigots, but the country wasn't really on a first-name basis with any of them). 90% of the film is intensely interesting, gripping stuff. Then he corners a couple of the younger teens to ask them if they really believed this stuff, and wouldn't they rather just be normal and have boyfriends?

To me, it felt like overstepping the bounds of journalism and into the realm of pop psychologist. Not only was it fairly mean to the kids to put them on the spot like that on camera, it to me sort of undercut the documentary up to that point. Theroux clearly had a point of view; how fair a representation was everything else he'd shown us? I found that almost all of his films have similar points of uncomfortable blurring of the lines, as if he goes around not to document stories but to insert himself in the middle of them as savior.

The Call of the Weird is his book-length re-expoloration of some of his earlier American documentary subjects, in an attempt to ... reconnect with them? His motives don't really matter, as the book is largely a recitation of his films, followed by interviewing the subjects, who have little desire to open up yet again.

Theroux makes a number of reflexively defensive points: in his foreward, he talks about how he hoped the book wouldn't be just another "Look at all the freaks in America!" roadshow, or if it was that it would the purest distillation of the form (as if this is better?). In the book proper, he seems on an eternal journey of enlightenment, realizing that the former subjects have nothing to gain by talking to him, or that it's kind of silly to expect a specific former subject who had never dropped his "persona" to suddenly open up his deepest personal feelings simply because Theroux wants him to.
All that being said, the discussions of the various subcultures are fascinating, because as I said at the top Theroux picks interesting subjects and documents them well. Additionally, the most revealing part of the book came when Theroux mentioned his surprise that the UFO people were so unwilling to look skeptically at their beliefs. He talked of his own tendency toward self-doubt and "logical-mindedness," and his inability to understand people that wouldn't look so askance at themselves. This for me explains my reactions to his documentaries, though it more suggests that maybe it's just not the best field/format for him.

In all, the book suffers from the primary problem that Theroux's documentaries do: He mapped out an entire story in his head that didn't materialize in the same way once he took it on the road. What we're left with is his attempts to reconcile the two. ( )
  thoughtbox | May 27, 2016 |
This is typical Louis, just as you'd expect. It's very similar to the TV series, so if you are a fan, you should enjoy this. ( )
  BruceGargoyle | Oct 20, 2013 |
A more accurate rating for this would have been 3.5.

Louis is as skilled a writer as he is documentary maker. This book is very interesting but ultimately offers more of an insight into the author, than his subjects. Which is great for anyone that has seen the intial series of documentaries but possibly frustrating for those expecting an examination of American subculture ( )
  ElaineRuss | Sep 23, 2013 |
Having seen numerous Louis Theroux documentaries including the BBC weird weekend series I was immediately intrigued by this book - it sounded like it would be an interesting read to catch up where many of the subjects now were.

Whilst it would be helpful to have seen the documentaries before reading the book to have some additional background, there is however enough overlap in the book for you to know what's going on if you haven't seen them, or have forgotten most of it. Thankfully, it's not so much overlap that it's boring if you can remember. Some of the backgrounds also contain insights and commentary not covered in the original documentaries.

One thing I noticed was that I found myself reading some sections in the voice of Louis Theroux.

Overall, it was an light yet enjoyable book providing an insight into subcultures not many folk have contact with. ( )
1 vote HenriMoreaux | Sep 19, 2013 |
Equal parts weird documentary follow-up and navel gazing Gen-X memoir, this quirky book was... well, quirky. Theroux apparently made a series of documentaries about fringe-dwellers (white power believers, UFO contactees, porn stars & the like) back in the 90s and was inspired to follow up ten years later. Most of the odd ducks were still odd. Some were dead. Some were marginally less odd. Along the way, Theroux is forced to examine his journalistic motives and himself. It's interesting in a strange sort of way- reading about what I think of as "harmless kooks" was pretty fun in a "Gosh I'm so much saner than these people" way, but when he was talking to the hardcore Hitler-lovers it made for scary and horrible reading- the kind where one wonders how one can share any DNA with these creatures.

Theroux is a solid writer with the occasional flash of insight. An enjoyable book overall. ( )
  satyridae | Apr 5, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
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"You may lie with your mouth, but with the mouth you make as you do so you none the less tell the truth."Friedrich Nietzsche
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For Nancy
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One cold December day in 1996, I met up with an elderly racist leader named Pastor Richard Butler.
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