Thanks to the influence of Leora Kornfeld, this blog has a keen interest in figures who like to jab contemporary culture with a stick.
We have followed the careers of Tom Green and Sasha Baron Cohen, and even Steve-O with interest.
Theroux walks the line beautifully. An Englishman, he comes to America with ridicule in mind. But he is ever so careful not to let us catch him in the act…of jabbing culture with a stick, I mean.
No, he prefers English understatement. And often he engages with an America so over-the-top that, understatement is plenty. Any framing or comment would be gratuitous.
Happily, this strategy gives Theroux's journalism the qualities most prized by Anthropology: deep curiosity and real dispassion. (And if I am wrong about Mr. Theroux's secret motives, I apologize.)
Here's a fine, revelational moment. Theroux (LT) is interviewing Brian Danzig (sp?) about the AIWF (American Independent Wrestling Federation), a sports franchise Danzig (BD) appears to run out of the back of a truck.
LT: "Would you ever wrestle for the WCW, for one of the really big [wrestling federations]? (5:46 in the YouTube clip)
BD: No, I wouldn't have as much control.
Dean Puckett (sp?): They would be his monster (sic). He wants to be his own monster.
BD: Yeah, I'd be a made-for-TV monster.
There are moments in an anthropological interview where, if we're lucky, the world turns inside out. You know that the last 50 words are worth 2 hours of talking. If you can only "unpack" these terms, you'll go home in triumph.
"He wants to be his own monster." Oh please, just shoot me. This can take us into the heart of American culture, and its difference from the English one. This is ethnographic treasure.
But no. Theroux does not follow up or dig in. Instead, we cut to Theroux getting a splinter in his finger.
To be fair, no one said Theroux is an anthropologist or that he should act like one. Still if your difference from Rooney and Rocca is that you get closer, then it makes sense not refuse these ethnographic moments.
American culture is still waiting for someone to take up the Charles Kerault "trip across America" project. And personally, I think, were it not for the Manhattan hauteur, Anthony Bourdain and his "No Reservations" would be very nearly there. Why not Louis Theroux? If our best early ethnographer was a Frenchman, why shouldn't the present one be an Englishman.
See the Theroux interview segment on YouTube here.