Louis Theroux visits ‘Forbidden America’

Sunday:Louis Theroux’s Forbidden America; (BBC2, 9pm)

By Claire Cartmill
Saturday, 12th February 2022, 5:00 pm
Baked Alaska with Louis Theroux
Baked Alaska with Louis Theroux

He’s been making documentaries since the late 1990s, and many of his shows have focused on the darker side of US society as well as its hidden subcultures. So, some viewers may ask what Louis Theroux has left to learn about America.

However, as the presenter himself points out, the country he’s depicting in his new three-part series Louis Theroux’s Forbidden America is very different from the one he explored all those years ago in shows like Weird Weekends.

Louis explains: “The world has gone through massive changes in the last few years, in particular from the effects of social media. This new series looks at the way those changes have affected people in America who are in different ways involved in dangerous, extreme, or morally questionable lifestyles.”

One of the episodes will see Louis immersing himself in the world of rap and hip-hop in the southern states, in particular Florida. It’s a music genre that has often prided itself on authenticity, and there’s a long history of rappers mining their own lives for inspiration.

The presenter discovers that social media has given aspiring artists new ways to promote themselves and connect with fans, including engaging in online feuds and live-streaming their sometimes chaotic lifestyles. Louis finds out if this could be fuelling high-risk behaviour.

He also takes a look at the porn industry, which he discovers is currently dealing with its own Me Too movement as it reckons with difficult questions about boundaries and consent.

Platforms like OnlyFans have arguably given power and financial independence to performers, while social media has given them a platform to share allegations of misconduct. But as Louis discovers, not everyone is happy about what they see as ‘trial by Twitter’.

The series begins though with an investigation into the far right, which was thrust into the international spotlight following the notorious Capitol Hill riots in 2021.

Louis learns how the leaders are building solidarity through online networks, contributing to a fast-growing ‘dissident’ nationalist movement that shares deeply racist, homophobic, Anti-Semitic and misogynistic views. Yet as the presenter discovers, it’s moving from the darker corners of the internet to influence events in the ‘real world’.

Even for a filmmaker with Louis’ track record, these are difficult subjects, but he assures us they won’t necessarily leave us wishing the internet had never been invented.

He says: “These three documentaries were tough to make. They required delicate access conversations.

“They feature scenes and confrontations that are shocking and upsetting. But they are also powerful depictions of a world that has become strange in ways we could never have imagined just 10 years ago. They show the dangers of the technotopia we all now inhabit, where extremist content can be piped directly into the phones and laptops of millions of children.

“But they also illustrate some of the positive opportunities the new world has created by disrupting old hierarchies of power.”

He adds: “I’m very proud of all three programmes and hope viewers will find them as thought provoking to watch as I did making them.”

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