Louis Theroux: An Honest Journalist

Yes, I know the term ‘Honest Journalist’ seems like an oxymoron…Firstly I’d just like to say thanks for all the feedback and encouragement about the blog. I know last week’s post wasn’t to everyone’s taste but I’m unapologetic as this is my space to explore things that interest me; be open minded, you might find something you never thought you’d love!

This post is about a god amongst men, Louis Theroux. What a babe. I’m currently devouring his documentaries on Netflix (no excuses not to take a look) and what strikes me is his holistic approach.

I am continually impressed by Theroux’s willingness to jump into the deep end, not only reporting on the most provocative topics in modern society, but becoming actively involved in them. This is a man who has had liposuction, gambled his own money and attended Westboro Church pickets at funerals all in the name of journalism.

The skill in Theroux’s work lies in his ability to make it look effortless. Although he is an incredibly clever man, having studied at Oxford, he never appears condescending and makes his documentaries relatable to the viewer. He manages to retain the image of being an ordinary person, even considering his status as a high profile, respected, broadcaster. The witty and honest commentary throughout his programmes presents Theroux as an extension of the viewer exploring these subcultures and groups; he says stupid things and sticks out like a sore thumb.

Indeed, Theroux could be described as awkward at times, geeky even, but his willingness to fully embrace his identity allows a special relationship between himself and the interviewee, as well as the audience. His style feels natural, treating the people of his documentaries as equals, rather than controversial specimens to be examined. This approach often exposes the human side of Theroux’s interviewees, allowing them to show their multi-faceted personalities.

Instead of pushing people for drama, Theroux’s ethos allows it to unfold naturally through carefully constructed questions; a favourite of mine is watching individuals become more and more irate when they realise Theroux may have a point. Often with these documentaries it is what is left unsaid that shouts the loudest.

A prime example of this is the episode about Michael Jackson. It takes talent to make an engaging programme about the star without ever getting to interview him. The fact that Theroux makes documentaries with seemingly limited resources, relying on his charm (and a bit of money) to explore the wacky worlds of his interviewees only adds to the thought-provoking honesty of his work. He is willing to address the uncomfortable topics but does so in a sensitive and diplomatic manner that gets real responses. I really respect Theroux for using his philosophy of accountability on himself as well as those he documents, with him recently readdressing his interview of Jimmy Saville, speaking to those abused by the man he interviewed 15 years earlier. That takes guts and integrity, particularly when the crowd is distancing itself from the fallout of a prolific paedophile, instead of addressing the harsh reality that Saville was a part of their lives.

I certainly haven’t seen all of Theroux’s work, but just wanted to express how impressed I have been so far; the authentic manner and quirky approach of his documentaries makes them perceptive yet entertaining. If anything, go and watch some just for the great memes they make and all the ridiculous things Louis says, below are a few of my favourite (these can all be found on the wonderful @NoContextLouis Twitter page).




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