• Denby Weller

Journal prompt 6

Watch Louis Theroux's Weird Weekends Demolition Derby ( (Links to an external site.))

Reflect on the following, and anything else that comes to your mind:

  1. His interview style

  2. How does he use self-fabrication to create rapport with his interviewee?

  3. Why do people indulge him?

  4. What do you think about his perseverance? His resilience? His empathy? 

  5. Is he having conversations or is he doing interviews? What is the difference?

  6. What role does authenticity play in this? What is authenticity?

I don't know how authentic Louis Theroux really is. There is something in his performance that strikes me as manufactured, and it leaves me feeling ill at ease when watching some of his work. This example was innocuous enough – people who self-identify as a bit off-beat showing him their off-beat hobby. This, to me is Theroux at his best.

But in his Scientology film, when he interviews meth addicts and pimps, there is something a bit more sinister at work. I suppose the unease I feel is related to the asymmetric power relationship his relationships with his subjects are based upon. He is highly-informed, educated, and well-to-do, and I feel that this forms a substantial part of his strategy of faux naïveté. In the demolition derby world, the power balance is challenged when his subjects joke about his lack of physical strength or his cowardice – and that seems to resolve the asymmetry that has developed, putting them all back on equal footing.

But Theroux's power is reasserted when he offers more than the seller is asking for his demolition car, pointing out that he is 'well funded' by the BBC. The seller's ill-at-ease 'we can do whatever you want to do!' response underlines the basic tension that exists beneath Theroux's sojourn into this world. He might act the naive debutante, but he is a rich man rubbing shoulders with working class America – guys for whom a twelve dollar prize is worth lining up to collect, and a plastic trophy is 'faux marble'. These are the human beings on whose backs American exceptionalism has been bred, and Theroux's off-hand 'it's plastic, isn't it?' is a shockingly callous remark to make to people who have so little but were promised so much. All of his explorations of America's under-class exhibit moments like this, and they give the lie to his bumbling, confused persona. His history degree from Oxford should have taught Theroux better than to make this class group the subject of his tip-toeing irony/mockery.

If you ever needed any further evidence of Theroux's dominance, you need only look at how the camera operator covers each scene in all of his documentaries. The camera's gaze consistently rests on Theroux himself, centring him in every narrative and focusing more on his reaction to the people and stories he encounters than the people or stories themselves.

He can perform a recognisable version of empathy all he likes, but to me his work smacks of colonialism and patriarchy, and I have no taste for it at all.

That's my Dad shooting his big ass pistol at Townsville pistol club. He taught my husband how to shoot here this night. Every time I visit Dad, I go out on a Wednesday night for the weekly shooting competition. Dad taught us this skill when we were kids and used to go camping in crocodile country.

The guys that Louis Theroux meets in this episode remind me of some of Dad's mates at the pistol club. They're big-hearted men.

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