Louis Theroux: Surviving America’s Most Hated Family. BBC 2, BBC iPlayer.

surviving.jpg

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0006vv7/louis-theroux-surviving-americas-most-hated-family

I watch most of Louis Theroux’s documentaries. I thought I’d already seen this one. My tag-line was the Phelps’s family were no longer America’s most hated family, because that was the Trump’s.  Wishful thinking. Theroux has got some good mileage out of the Phelps’s family, but paradoxically the Phelps’s family has also got something back from Theroux, new members, new recruits. The latest a man from Bradford, of all places, married one of the Phelp’s girls.

Another potential recruit described himself as pan-sexual. For a group premised on hate of the other and gays in particular that’s like a Jew joining the SS because he likes the cut of their cloth.  For the Phelps’s family Jews killed Jesus and your Pastor is a whore, pansexualism isn’t really their thing.

That old line there is no such thing as bad publicity is amplified here. Pastor Fred Phelps, patriarch and leader of the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas died in 2014. We already knew that from the last episode. The big news here was he recanted before he died (allegedly) and told gay members of the community across from them that they weren’t bad people after all. Phelps, of course, thought everybody would burn in hell, including fellow evangelist Billy Graham.’ Gramps’ was the exception to the rule and whoever followed his doctrine were exceptional people and on the right path. Do what I say, not do what I do.

Since ‘Gramp’ Phelps died there has been a change of management in the church. They still wave signs such as God Hates Fags at military funerals and other churches. But with the advent of that old pussy grabber in chief, thief and money launderer, Trump, who orchestrates hate campaigns that ‘Gramp’ Phelps would cream his pants over, they no longer seem so out there, or in your face. Seem a little boring. What lies can they tell us that can trump the Trump? What can they do next to entertain us? Get elected to Congress? Lead the American nation into a Third World War and the apocalypse at the Book of Revelations promised. Gramp Phelps couldn’t but the moron’s moron may, God help us. That worries me. Phelps, in comparison, are child’s play.

Even poker-face Louis got in on the act, mimicking Gramps Phelps and drawling, in the old man’s dialect, ‘Donald Trump you’re going straight to hell and going to split it in two’. Amen to that, the sooner the better.

What is also noticeable is the way the thin and photogenic Phelps’s women age so quickly. Look at the first documentary and Theroux has hardly changed, a little thinner in the face, but basically the same. Westboro Baptist Church breeds its own members. Even with family defections, that keeps the numbers up. If you go back to the first programme a six-year old girl is holding a placard with a hate message she can’t explain, but her mum told her to do it, so it’s good. Here that girl has grown up and is marrying a recent recruit. Man is master in the house. She’ll no longer have a voice. Nothing new here. A repackaging of same-old, same-old, but still strangely watchable.

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Miriam’s Dead Good Adventure, BBC 2, BBC iPlayer, editor Gwyn Jones, episode 1 of 2.

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https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0004gpl/miriams-dead-good-adventure-series-1-episode-1

There’s a simple rule in life, don’t get old and don’t get fat, which becomes a commandment on television. Presenter Miriam Margolyes is the exception to the rule. She looks a bit like Grotbags, the witch, but without the green hair. Margolyes has become something of the flavour of the month on BBC, a kind of low-rent-a-gob, fat and Jewish and a lesbian version of Louis Theroux that is sent to comment on the crazy American trends that perplex and amuse us.  Miriam’s Dead Good Adventure, for those not in the know is a play on words, mimicking Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and the rewriting of history into something groovy. Groan you might.

Miriam starts episode one and ends it in Wren Hall, a place where men and women with dementia spend their last days. As you’d expect with television cameras there’s plenty of activities and the staff all smile. Nobody beats the patients or steals from them. And they even feed them regularly. They get involved in old-fashioned sing-songs. It would break my heart, if I had one. This more than anything else scares the shit out of me. My partner argues it wouldn’t matter that much because you wouldn’t know what’s happening to you. Geoff who visits his wife June most days is a case in point. Miriam went away to America and came back about a month later and they were still repeating the same conversation. You is no longer you, but somebody else. We get the usual stuff from Miriam about how in love they are. Past tense?

In California they take the dictum never get old and never get fat very seriously and test them to breaking point.  The Revolution Against Ageing and Death (RAAD). Miriam usually begins the conversation by asking what age the plastic man or women is and what beach did they wash up from. Then she says they don’t look that age. Plastic people and Domestos bottle never do. Miriam aged 77 looks her age. She has always looked 77, even when she was 57. Plastic people’s pouts give them away. No they haven’t had surgery they were born with a heavenly, fish pout. They all seem to be that certain age where they plan to live forever.

Miriam jumped from California to Arizona. This is the place to go if you want to freeze your body, or if you can’t afford that, your brain for future generations to marvel about how stupid you were.  Pioneers of the super longevity movement plan to live long enough to outstrip our current body’s capabilities by freezing the balls off themselves and achieve escape velocity. Science will have the cure for death and dying and they’ve just got to wait until they can pick up the keys at the nearest showroom.  82-year-old Bernadene, who seems more plastic mannequin than person and cryotherapy enthusiast Jim, her youth partner, who discovered the secrets of eternal youth in his freezer and you’ve only to look at his hair to know it’s true. Bernadene is honest, for those schmucks or poor folk that can’t afford to pay for treatment and live an eternal kind of life, well, the world would be a better place. The secret of eternal life is only for some rich, white folk. Here is Trump’s America in a freezer bag. There’s more, but I won’t bore you with it. Nothing I’ve not seen before.

The Most Hated Family in America (2007) BBCiPlayer, Louis Theroux. America’s Most Hated Family in Crisis (2011) BBCiPlayer.

phelps.jpg

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b007clvf/louis-theroux-the-most-hated-family-in-america

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0107zhy/louis-theroux-americas-most-hated-family-in-crisis

These are snapshots of white America in 2006 and 2010 and the evangelical Phelp’s family from Topeka, Kansas, who preached a creed of hate and intolerance and labelled it Christianity. Who wrapped their family in the nation’s flag and the First Amendment of free speech and attended Gulf War veteran’s funeral and called them fags. A family that claimed to have a monopoly on truth and a monopoly on virtue and being true to themselves were able to tell the nation like it is. A family that claimed to be the little guys persecuted for their beliefs. Heroic in their authenticity, reliant on God and state troopers to preach their gospel of hate and their propaganda message that the great American nation had failed God because it was being controlled by the antichrist Obama and being manipulated by Jews and fags and everybody else that were not Phelps. A family that was no longer the most hated family in America. That would be the Trumps. But there is prophecy here and there is good news. The patriarch of the Phelps died in 2014.  Amen.

Richard Holloway (2018) Waiting For The Last Bus: Reflections on Life and Death.

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Psalm 90:10 King James Version (KJV)

 The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.

 

Richard Holloway is in his nineties, a bit older than the biblical fourscore years and he’s still waiting for that last bus. It’s a regular service. If he misses it, another is sure to follow. Life may be an unequal race, but in the end, we all end up  in a dead end. Holloway is agnostic, which means he’s just not sure and if it really matters. I guess that matches my own inarticulate beliefs.

Holloway when he was around my age was Bishop of Edinburgh and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church and even then he wasn’t sure he believed in the risen Christ, or the idea of God. He had doubts, as all good men had. It’s all there in his marvellous biography, Leaving Alexandria.

And he’s written a stack of other books about morality and religion and dabbles in poetry and music. His muse is his life and reading and ‘The Last Bus’ is an extension of Leaving Alexandria, the postscript before he becomes a postscript.

He talks about the faith he had in the pills advertised in Church Illustrated around 1958 that cured baldness, which he purchased, but went bald anyway.  The only known cure after than was combing back to front and trusting in a fair wind and the myopia of others. There’s a metaphor and lesson there somewhere and it is this, the human animal is cursed and blessed with self-awareness and self-consciousness. The secret is acceptance.  The consolation is as we get older ‘vanity and self-consciousness fade away’.  That’s the theory.

More difficult is when we can see the last bus and knowing there’s only one stop ahead of us, there’s no future in front of us and our past is behind us. He quotes Philip Larkin:

‘And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true’.

Holloway calls for gratitude, not for death, but for life and the beauty of the world. His polemic extends to the medical profession who keep us alive when all joy is gone.

When in doubt, make a documentary about is as Louis Theroux does in the state of California and the land of the free, in Altered States, Choosing Death.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0bshjrp/louis-theroux-altered-states-2-choosing-death

Here we have a mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly. We have a man who is grateful for the life he has lived and chooses death and takes the lethal overdose a doctor had provided. He dies with his family beside him. A terminally-ill woman does not take the lethal overdose but dies of natural causes, in other words, cancer. Whether that a better end, who knows?

The ugly face of death is here, in a group called Exit. This is something Holloway recognises in his long years of religious life and strive, the fanatic, who is always right. Theroux follows this man and woman as they prep an elderly woman in a wheelchair about the best way to kill herself. She is terminally ill and has early onset dementia, her life partner, her arms and legs, her quality of life, had died with him.

Theroux is too smug to be a devil’s advocate, but here I felt there were more push factors than the pull of death. She didn’t want to lose her house, she couldn’t afford medical care and her arguments were about money.

Nobody really cares said the Exit advocate, apart from the immediate family of the dying. And he was right, I agreed with him. She’d end up living in a twelve-by-eight room with another resident if she was taken into state care. There’s a lack of light here, but no lack of clarity. His co-Exit partner agreed with him. Her argument was that was just the way it is.

We know that over 600 000 people in the United States last year were made bankrupt because of their medical bills, but that’s when the bad becomes the sad and we’re in the slippery slope argument beloved of fanatics of a different sort. I’ve been reading about how euthanasia programmes in Hitler’s Germany were first set up in hospitals by Himmler and rolled out across the conquered nations for ‘mouths unworthy of life’. This is a dilute Exit version in California and here is the evidence, when we start talking about money, we’re taking about empty mouths. Let’s not kid ourselves and call it something else. Certainty is man’s most dangerous weapon.

But certainty, like black holes and religion is plural and not singular. Holloway quotes the French mystic, Blaise Pascal.

FIRE: God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and scholars.

Death’s imperative does not go away and it’s always personal. We’re all waiting for that last bus, if we don’t get hit by a train first. Too late, too late, our regrets take us places we don’t want to go. Holloway quotes the words of the poet A.S.J. Tessimond god, or the ultimate reality will meet us wherever we are and however we have made of ourself.

He gives you time in heaven to do as you please,

To climb love’s gradual ladder by slow degrees

Gently to rise from sense to soul, to ascend

To a world of timeless joy, world without end.

 

 

Louis Theroux: Dark States – Heroin Town, BBC 2, 9pm, BBC iPlayer, directed by Dan Child, editor Ann Price.

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http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0991fsb/louis-theroux-dark-states-1-heroin-town

There’s a funereal feel to most things Louis Theroux is in. He’s like the Stephen King of documentaries and with a title like Dark State – Heroin Town you expect the residents to rise up from their crypt and stab you with a used syringe and make you part of the problem. The fortunate thing about Louis is he’s already undead. He’s like the actor that plays Steve from Coronation Street, he’s got one mock expression –horror, shock, indifference, oh that ice cream looks nice – and he tends to use it a lot.

Louis has dropped out of the sky and given himself a stake in the problems of Huntington, West Virginia. The party is long finished the heavy industries that used to dot the landscape long gone, the Appalachian population addiction to heroin is thirteen times the national average. This is Trump country, so we can’t say they are no good junkies, or crack heads because these are black diseases, white people suffer from opioid addiction problems. The medical mythology is that with all these heavy industries there was lots of work-related injuries and prescription drugs, freely administered, allowed workers to keep working. Backbone of the community and all that. Then doctors got scared and stopped prescribing. Heroin filled the pain-relief gap.  What surprised me was the fire brigade, not the ambulance service, is on the front line of the heroin epidemic. Fire fighters most common job is to apply antagonists to opiate addicts that have overdosed. There’s talk of law suits against big pharma. One in ten babies born in Huntingdon is born with opiate addiction. Louis follows an addict and her partner to full term and the baby being born. Both receive methadone prescriptions. What’s the answer?   More Theroux eyebrow wiggling.

 

Unreported World. Putin’s Family Values. Channel 4, 7pm. Director Jessica Kay, Presented by Marcel Theroux.

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http://www.channel4.com/programmes/unreported-world/on-demand/65524-002

Just when you thought you’d seen enough of writer, producer and documentary maker Louis Theroux his brother Marcel pops up in Russia in a programme about Putin’s Family Values. There are two narratives here, one which we in the West will no doubt be familiar with. Tatanya is the Russian matriarch who opens her heart and opens her home. She has adopted 48 children and is currently fostering another 28. Six-year-old Kostya, for example, was abandoned on the streets by his alcoholic parents and brought to Tatanya three days later to care for him. Five-year old Kolya has a bad squint and even worse temper tantrums. He was adopted by a family with his other three siblings, but returned to Tatanya. Kolya really wants to go to Kindergarten with the other children and the camera follows him there with Tatanya. She complains she doesn’t get enough money from the state to feed the kids in her care. From what we see the house is dilapidated, but the kids playing in the basement seem happy (there’s no way of knowing if they are unhappy).

Ivan Osaki is a Patriarch of the Russian Orthordox Church in Cossack County near the River Don, on the borders of the Ukraine. He is the face of Russia Putin wants the West to see. He lives in a palatial home with his 18 children, their ages ranging from seven to thirty-three. He also has 25 grandchildren, and his sons are also Patriarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church. His lifestyle is sponsored by the billionaires who cashed in on the breakup of the Soviet Union and ‘liberalised’ its assets. They include Konstantin Maleeov a banker with Kremlin connections, who has also set up Russia’s first Christian TV channel. Alexander Dugen a Putin cheerleader and—for the moment—a supporter of President Trump’s conservative values. Ivan Osaki’s wife, Nadeszhda, jokes that she went on maternity leave twenty-eight years ago and has been pregnant pretty much every year since then. Her services to the Russian state has been rewarded with Order for Parental Glory.

My reading of this is Russia’s population has been shrinking since the size of the economy halved with liberalisation and the gap between the rich and poor was once those in the Kremlin drove a Skoda and had six times the income of their comrades. Now there’s a unhealthy Western-style gap between rich and poor, with the latter choosing to have fewer children. The Order for Parental Glory – for good parents – has similarities with the Cross of Honour the Nazi Party gave to mothers who produced four or more children. The annexation of parts of Ukraine because the so-called majority of their citizens speak Russian has similarities with the Anschluss between Austria and Germany and the annexation of countries bordering the enlarged state. But you’d need to go back to Tolstoy’s War and Peace and read Nicholas Rostov’s sycophantic ravings such as ‘Oh God, what would happen to me if the Emperor spoke to me?’ thought Rostov, ‘I should die of happiness’, to appreciate the mind-sets and public pronouncements of Patriarch’s like Osaki that call Putin their father.

The strong man isn’t a uniquely Russian trait. The moron’s moron in the Whitehouse plays the same role. And both strong men seek to turn back the clock and put women firmly in their place. In America Trump seeks to appoint judges that will repeal Roe v Wade and take all federal funding from clinics that sanction abortion. Maleeov’s Christian commentators on television call for the sanctity of private property, no interference from the state in family life and compare abortions to the practices of Nazi doctors in the Death Camps. Money talks and conservatism speaks very loudly, women are not only different from men, they are lesser than men.

Yuval Noah Harari epigram in Sapiens about the crime of married rape, for example, being an oxymoron ‘as illogical as saying that a man stole his own wallet’ sums it up exactly. The proposed bill to decriminalise domestic violence in the Russian Duma supported by Maleeov was passed into Russian law. Men, of course, don’t get off Scot free. It will cost them around 5000 roubles (£70) if they are found guilty of beating their wife and 7000 roubles for beating their children. Harari cites precedents from among other books the Bible, if a man meets a virgin and rapes her he must pay fifty shekels to the father of the virgin and then marry her. Nobody can argue with the laws of the bible or the laws of the market. Both are God given. The world is becoming a much smaller and harsher place for poor women.

 

Louis Theroux: Transgender Kids, BBC 2 9pm

transgender

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b05qkzt2/louis-theroux-transgender-kids

Louis Theroux used to write books. He’s moved into the far more lucrative market of documenting those in our society that don’t quite fit in. He writes the scripts for these programmes. Has his own crew. Puts it together like a jigsaw. A novel approach. I get the feeling Louis doesn’t quite fit in either. An alien presence among those we hold at arm’s length and treat as alien.

Let’s look at the squirm factor. By far the worst came near the end of the programme. Dr Crane, the surgeon that carried out trans-surgery in his San Francisco clinic talked about the cost of different procedures like a gung-ho general. He made me squirm. But it was one of his success stories that made me want to look the other way. She had been a he. That doesn’t bother me. I don’t care what people do with their fiddly bits. Not that she had any fiddly bits left, apart from her eyebrows. They kept beetling about whilst she looked on as her partner answered questions from Louis. Up and down they went. Left and right they went. Possessed by free will they would have turned into a wiggy world and I feared for mankind. It might have been the type of questions Louis was asking that set them dancing. He hesitates and then hesitates some more and then jumps right in and talks like a kindergarten teacher addressing a class of five-year olds. Using words such as ‘top bits’ and ‘bottom bits’. He acted like a fanny.

Around fifty-percent of transgender people think about or attempt suicide. There is a cost and it’s not just financial. If adults want to make changes to their bodies that’s fine. But the ethics of medicine is guided by the epigram: above all do no harm. I’d cite the tragic case of David Peter Reimer whose penis was accidentally burnt off in a medical procedure when a baby and, on the advice of psychologist John Money, advocating a particular theory, brought up as a female and used as a test subject.

For any good story you need the beginning the middle and the end. You get those that are sure. Such as those with beetle eyebrows. You get the ones that are not so sure. We see a prepubescent Cole who sometimes dresses as Crystal and talks about growing up and marrying as a man and having a family. His mum Joy supports his/her choice. His dad Eric is more ambivalent. He wants a son. Often it was the parents in this programme I felt most sorry for.

Eduardo and Kacey made the difficult transition in supporting their son Sebastian’s metamorphosis into Camille. Here’s where the squirm factor struck again. Camille is about seven. She shows Louis into her room. It’s girly as you’d expect. Then she asks him to play a game. Louis, being Louis looks like a stick of wood with specs. He politely declines. Camille turns on the music and apes some girly pop star and it’s like kiddy porn. All the stupid half hints as sexual fulfilment and a child flinging her face about like a wobble board. I didn’t like it, but my thoughts were Camille wants to be that women, that particular pop star (I don’t know which one) therefore to attain that goal she needs to be a women. Perhaps she’ll grow out of it. Above all do no harm.

Louis visits a group of medics who take children through body dysmorphia or wrong body transition. He is told that children from the age of two or three can show a consistency that suggests they are wrongly gendered. One test is the he/she test. Which pronoun the boy/girl used is indicative of what exactly I’m not sure. I’m not sure about lots of things.

Let’s go back to good old Alfred Kinsey for answers. We’re all fucked up. And he would counter Larkin’s suggestion that it was your mum and dad’s that fuck you up.  He suggested that 37%  of males had some form of homosexual experience and one in ten of the population are homosexual. There are around nine million Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender in America. A third more than the population of Scotland. To suggest that gender is fixed and identity can be cured by medical treatment and intervention at such an early age seems be repeating the failure of John Money’s experiment – and for many of the same reasons. What’s the hurry? We’ll find out who we are at different points in our life. Do no harm and no harm to wait.