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The Call of the Weird: Travels in American Subculturesby Louis Theroux
Synopses & Reviews
No, it doesn't get much weirder than this: Thor Templar, Lord Commander of the Earth Protectorate, who claims to have killed ten aliens. Or April, the Neo-Nazi bringing up her twin daughters Lamb and Lynx (who have just formed a white-power folk group for kids called Prussian Blue), and her youngest daughter, Dresden.
For a decade now, Louis Theroux has been making programs about offbeat characters on the fringes of U.S. society. Now he revisits the people who have most intrigued him to try to discover what motivates them, and why they believe the things they believe. From his Las Vegas base (where else?), Theroux calls on these assorted dreamers, schemers, and outlaws — and in the process finds out a little about the workings of his own mind. What does it mean, after all, to be weird, or "to be yourself"? Do we choose our beliefs or do our beliefs choose us?
And is there something particularly weird about Americans?
America, prepare yourself for a hilarious look in the mirror that has already taken the rest of the English-speaking world by storm
"Ten years after hosting a BBC series on weird American subcultures, Theroux decided to make a 'Reunion Tour' and write a book about how his interviewees' lives had changed. Theroux's weird Americans were UFO enthusiasts, porn stars, Aryan Nation white supremacists, brothel prostitutes, gangsta rappers, become-a-millionaire scammers, Heaven's Gate survivors and, strangely, Ike Turner. Theroux (son of writer Paul Theroux) likes them because he believes they use weirdness to feel 'alive,' and that's 'more important than telling the truth.' Apart from that, what they have in common, 10 years later, is their unavailability — the porn star had become a computer programmer, the UFOer was inhabiting a different reality, and the prostitute was either born-again or doing drugs, hard to say. So Theroux settled for talking to others in their communities. Although he sometimes criticizes himself for botching things (trying unsuccessfully to attend the Millionaires seminar as the guest of a blacklisted former adherent), Theroux never criticizes his subjects, confining himself to what he hopes will be inoffensive questions — like, have you 'ever thought of trying to be less racist?' As their rants become repetitious, these 'weird' subjects become surprisingly boring. By the end, readers may wonder why Theroux still finds these people so 'alive,' so interesting." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"'In hindsight,' Louis Theroux writes in the prologue to this book, 'the nineties may have been a kind of golden age for strange beliefs. In that interregnum between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the attacks on the World Trade Center all kinds of bizarre heterodoxies took root: space creatures were abducting humans from Earth, a secret cabal of bankers and industrialists called the Illuminati were... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) running the world; the approaching year 2000 heralded the Second Coming, or the arrival of a fleet of spaceships from a benevolent intergalactic federation.' He is right. I traveled across the United States at much the same time that Theroux was making BBC documentaries about some of the more extreme elements of American society and met several of the same characters. What I question is whether they are of much interest or relevance now. Theroux — the British-reared son of the American travel writer Paul Theroux — calls this book a 'reunion tour' in which he seeks out 10 of the people who intrigued him most to see what has become of them. He writes entertainingly, and with moments of great humor and empathy, but I was left asking myself why he bothered. The 9/11 attacks changed everything. America has moved on. His randomly selected subjects now come across merely as the sad flotsam you find in the backwaters of any society. In the 1990s you could argue that they told you something about America, but not anymore. Richard Butler is dead, and his neo-Nazi Aryan Nations movement is moribund. 'Almost Heaven,' the self-styled 'patriot' community in Idaho that believed Armageddon was imminent, has collapsed, and Mike Cain, a group member Theroux interviewed in 1997, is now a Las Vegas truck driver. Thor Templar, the Lord Commander of the Earth Protectorate who offered defense against alien attacks, appears to have turned his back on that fantasy world and now contends that 'our threats are much greater from our politicians than from extraterrestials.' In truth, some of Theroux's subjects were not particularly weird to begin with, and they certainly have not grown more so. Hayley, a prostitute in Nevada, has now found God and works as a stripper and animal sanctuary volunteer. JJ Michaels, a rising star of porn films, has acquired a Ukrainian wife through an online dating agency and lives in a suburb of St. Louis, where she complains of boredom. Ike Turner is still living down charges that he beat his ex-wife, Tina. The snake-oil salesman Marshall Sylver still cons the gullible into believing he can make them millionaires. This book, according to the publisher, has 'already taken England by storm.' That is news to me, a Londoner, and I rather hope it is not true. The lack of understanding on this side of the Atlantic of how America has changed since 9/11 is already great. Enough of the freak show, Mr. Theroux. It is time to find a new outlet for your undoubted talents. Martin Fletcher, an associate editor of the Times of London, is the author of 'Almost Heaven: Travels Through the Backwoods of America.'" Reviewed by Howard NormanMichael DirdaJohn McQuaidMargaret MacMillanJonathan YardleyDaniel GrossRobert PinskySusan JacobyMatt SchudelMartin Fletcher, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Paul Theroux's son writes with just as clear an eye for character and place as his father.... And he's funny.... Theroux's final analysis of American weirdness is true and new." Literary Review (England)
"The king of offbeat documentaries sets off across America in search of the weird and wacky. Cool." Mail on Sunday
"Alternately fascinating and sad." Kirkus Reviews
No, it doesnt get any weirder than this: Thor Templar, Lord Commander of the Earth Protectorate, who claims to have killed ten aliens. Or April, the Neo-Nazi bringing up her twin daughters Lamb and Lynx (A.K.A. Prussian Blue, a white-power folk group for kids) and her youngest daughter, Dresden. For a decade, Louis Theroux has been making acclaimed television programs about offbeat characters on the fringes of U.S. society. Now he revisits the people who have intrigued him the most to try to discover what motivates them-and why they hold their bizarre beliefs. Reflecting on these assorted dreamers, schemers, and outlaws, Theroux entertainingly and unforgettably creates a moving, funny, and frightening exposé of America and its often elusive dream” (NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC).
About the Author
Louis Theroux graduated from Oxford University, where he wrote for the satirical magazine Spy. After working on Michael Moore's Emmy-winning "TV Nation," he hosted his own BAFTA-winning shows in the United Kingdom, "Weird Weekends" and "When Louis Met...." This is his first book.
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