“The Most Hated Family In America”
I wonder who caught this a little while ago? I never got around to talking about it at the time but Louis Theroux’s excellent recent documentary inside San Quentin prison in California reminded me about that bizarre, outrageous and downright weird programme – as is to be expected from Louis’ investigations. That time, our man spent three weeks living with the family who comprise the tightly-knit Westboro Baptist Church in the US.
There was a time a few years back when I found Theroux a tad supercilious but I now believe he has something of a genius for teasing out all manner of strange idiosyncrasies from his explorations into human nature. It’s great and unmissable TV. In these days of endless, boring ‘reality’ TV that is quite an achievement
Watching his stay with the Westboro Baptists, the most difficult part for me was observing how the young children had been indoctrinated into the hatred. Barely old enough to understand such a concept, they were cajoled into repeating slogans about ‘fags’ during on-street public protests when they clearly had no idea or understanding of what they were saying. A particularly poignant moment was when one of the youngsters was struck on the head by a flying drink carton thrown at him by an angry passing motorist. Very sad stuff.
Most interesting for me were Louis’ interaction with the young (teen-aged?) girl, the daughter I believe. This is the brilliance of Louis work I think, he has great timing and is able to persuade the most unlikely people to open up to him, perhaps because he appears so benign and slightly hapless at times. He was almost flirting with the young girl whilst she appeared very uncomfortable and confused about how to react to him and his friendliness. She clearly liked him and was warming to him and appeared to be wondering if it was the ‘right’ feeling to have. Her strict family regimen of hate was the only thing that kept her onside after seeming to mentally waver a few times under Louis’ gentle and slightly mischievous promptings and long silences.
Louis further angered (seemingly a very easy thing to do) the family guru figure and head of the family and church, Fred Phelps. Phelps, clearly an embittered and twisted individual with his ‘GodHatesFags’ doctrine managed to take an instant dislike to Louis’ gentle yet cogent questions and halt any further meaningful investigation into what lay inside his apparent heart of stone. Few, if any, could have achieved any more than Louis with this most difficult man.
Superior television, in spite of the anger and disgust it offered in watching it.