Making the case for Louis Theroux to be declared an official Gen Z icon

By Charlie Sawyer

Published Apr 5, 2024 at 09:00 AM

Reading time: 3 minutes

Louis Theroux first appeared on the BBC in 1994 as a correspondent on documentarian Michael Moore’s show, TV Nation. And in 2018, I went on a Louis Theroux-themed university club night in Cardiff where I posed for photos with multiple cardboard cutouts of the specs-wearing presenter. Some might call my connection to Theroux as ‘written in the stars’, a couple might call it ‘deluded’, and others might question my sanity even, but I like to think that the course of both my professional life and my personal life has been in someway shaped by, yes, you guessed it, Mr Theroux.

Everyone knows that Theroux’s public persona embodies a kind of well-tempered and contained yet playful nature that immediately disarms older viewers. But I think it’s fair to say that his most engaged and dedicated fanbase are those in their 20s. Moreover, what’s so interesting about this is how despite the media industry’s style and tone of voice changing dramatically over the past 25 years, Theroux’s never missed a beat.

The documentary maker didn’t have to transform the way he approached work or audiences—whatever spark other presenters sought when the days of boys’ clubs and sensationalism had faded, was of no matter to Theroux. Why spend time searching for something you already have?

Also, to clarify, in terms of my Louis Theroux credentials, I’ve conducted extensive studies—studies that have primarily consisted of an unhealthy amount of watch time, made possible by taking advantage of my parent’s TV license.

In this article, I’m going to try and break down exactly why the Theroux effect continues to impact young people and why Gen Zers’ love for Theroux isn’t contingent on the number of times he’s seen in public with Amelia Dimoldenberg. And while I’m at it, I’ll also attempt to make a case for the documentary maker’s name to be enshrined on a nice-looking plinth or bench somewhere, perhaps in Soho.

@jas_apparel_

He is the icon and he is always the moment #louistheorux #louistherouxedit #theroux #jasapparel #homagetees #jigglejiggle

♬ original sound - kardashianicon

One of the primary reasonsTheroux’s work resonates with Gen Z so much is because of the subject matters he looks into. If you spend time considering the journalist’s portfolio, almost 90 per cent of his work is tailored to a young audience. For example, central themes that you can track throughout Theroux’s almost 30-year-long career include sex, race, religion, and of course, the classic self-reflection.

While it might look on the surface as though these are simply hot-button topics and formats that are key elements in the perfect recipe for an engaging watch, when you take a bit more time to closely consider the episodes in question, you realise that these are topics Gen Z are extremely engaged with across every social media platform.

For example, the rise in Christian nationalism is a subject that young people are incredibly vocal about, particularly concerning its impact on the state of global politics. This ideology, which is inherently amplified by the alt-right movement, has also directly intersected with White nationalism and domestic extremism—topics that Theroux has been covering for decades.

In my opinion, Theroux’s most accomplished and engaging series of documentaries centres on his time with the Phelps family. In fact, I’d argue that if you asked a big ol’ group of young people about their own personal favourite of the broadcaster’s projects, they’d give you the same answer.

In The Most Hated Family in America and its two subsequent follow-up episodes, Theroux perfectly toes the line between overt discomfort and genuine curiosity. His contempt for the Phelps’ beliefs and actions is obvious, and of course to be expected. However, it’s his natural awkwardness and almost comforting monotone voice that keeps us watching—and Louis, I truly mean that in the most complimentary way possible.

@real_life_documentaries

Source: Louis Theroux Specials: America’s Most Hated Family in Crisis 2011 BBC iplayer Part 9 Catching up with Jail Phelps #louistheroux #louistherouxdocumentary

♬ original sound - Documentary Clips

Theroux’s ability to ask the right questions is undoubtedly one of the reasons why he’s had such a successful career. As a viewer, you trust Theroux’s judgement and you’re always in a state of just enough uneasiness to feel as though you’re witnessing something truly important. His cheeky grin also doesn’t hurt.

This is definitely accurate in another one of my favourite Theroux projects, Louis Theroux: Forbidden America. In episode one, Extreme and Online, the documentary maker spends time with conservative influencer Nicholas J. Fuentes, a far-right livestreamer who’s known for his highly misogynistic, racist, and homophobic online rhetoric. Watching Fuentes and Theroux converse is fascinating, and I think it’s important to note that Theroux’s calm nature and apparent detachment from the conversation never translate to apathy.

@be_better_known

#forbiddenamerica on the #BBC by @officiallouistherux illustrates #extremeviews - probably not just in #America - #womensupportingwomen

♬ original sound - Be Better Known

There are also the ways in which Theroux has approached documenting sex work and sexual assault. It’s a rarity to see a male presenter create an environment wherein the women both onscreen and offscreen feel comforted. Even if Theroux pushes buttons, exploitation is never on the cards. First and foremost, he’s a champion of women and I rarely say anything that kind about the male species.

@real_life_documentaries

Source: Louis Special: Louis and the Brothel 2003 BBC iPlayer Final Part saying goodbye #louistheroux #louistherouxdocumentary

♬ original sound - Documentary Clips

During a time when Gen Z values authenticity and honesty more than anything, does it surprise anyone that it’s the man who is physically incapable of showboating or being dishonest with his intentions whose face we put on T-shirts? If it wasn’t already aggressively clear by now, I love you Louis—I hope that my digital footprint doesn’t prompt you to file for a restraining order against me.

Keep On Reading

By Charlie Sawyer

3 times tennis star Andy Murray proved he’s a gen Zer stuck in a millennial’s body

By Alma Fabiani

‘Hehe bye’: Employers reveal some of the funniest gen Z email sign-offs on TikTok

By Abby Amoakuh

Is football apolitical? Here is how FIFA and the UEFA are used to further political agendas

By Charlie Sawyer

Republican lawmaker censured for saying mass shootings are god’s punishment for abortion rights

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Oat milk vs almond milk: the ultimate showdown

By Charlie Sawyer

Diva down: A list of George Santos’ cuntiest moments in Congress 

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

UK police left children at mercy of grooming gang paedophiles, review finds

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Who is Bobbi Althoff, the podcaster who’s rumoured to have had an affair with Drake?

By Abby Amoakuh

Human rights activists petition to stop mass wedding of 100 orphaned girls in Nigeria

By Abby Amoakuh

Barron Trump is being groomed to take over the Trump empire and the graduation fuss proves it

By Abby Amoakuh

Gen Z are sober curious: Unpacking younger generations’ changing relationship with alcohol

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

ISIS started trending on X after the terrorist group allegedly threatened to attack Champions League

By Abby Amoakuh

Who is Selena Gomez dating? From Justin Bieber to Benny Blanco, here’s her full dating history

By Charlie Sawyer

6 easy hacks to slay no spend January this year

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Spirit Airlines flight breaks into violent brawl as passenger throws punches

By Abby Amoakuh

Nara Smith’s braids are causing outrage on TikTok. Here’s why

By Charlie Sawyer

Donald Glover’s Mr & Mrs Smith TV show has got people gagging

By Charlie Sawyer

New York Mayor supports conspiracy theory on why all pro-Palestine student protestors have the same tent

By Abby Amoakuh

Oklahoma State Senator Dusty Deevers to criminalise watching porn with penalties of up to 20 years in prison

By Emma O'Regan-Reidy

Is BookTok ruining reading? Critics seem to think so