Thursday, January 3, 2013

Want to Build More Bridges? Be Like Louis!

I bumped into my good friend Joe Darensbourg today, and before long we were in the Club Diner talking about Louis Theroux.

Some know him from his role doing spots for American cable news shows, while others know him as the BBC documentary maker who travels around the U.S., exposing its underbelly.  In case you don't know him at all, type his name into YouTube and you will be able to see most of his documentaries for free.  They are hard to turn away from, so make sure you've got some time to dig in and watch.

Anyway, back to Louis.  I first learned about him because YouTube "recommended" that I watch one of his films, and that was that.  Watching the way he penetrated some hard-core crystal meth networks in Fresno, CA, I instantly thought back to the observation I had made a few months ago about the impressions that my American classmates make on my international ones (In case you didn't read that one -- or don't remember an obscure, months-old blog entry -- the basic idea was that it's better to be very curious than very knowledgeable).

Louis Theroux plays this to a T.  It doesn't hurt that he is a well-educated foreigner speaking in an accent that makes him "different" right off the bat.  His boyish posture, unremarkable physique, and angular features don't hurt, either.  The people he interviews don't view him as a threat or as a condescending jerk; instead, they view him as an open, somewhat naive British guy who wants to learn more about what it is they're doing, and why.  

Everyone loves to believe that he or she is especially possessed with "street smarts" or general knowledge/awareness about the ways of the world.  When people get into pissing contests about such things, it quickly becomes hard to bear (I recently bought a new car, and flat-out avoid any related conversations with someone just waiting to rob me of 15 minutes so I can learn how much better/savvier they are about car buying).

Sometimes, it's hard to swallow your pride.  When I worked in the Mayor's Office, it used to drive me kinda nuts when people "from" Lowell assumed that I couldn't possibly understand where any street was that doesn't start with the letter "M."

But really, that's just my own insecurity on display -- why else should I care?  The other day, someone started explaining to me "what downtown Lowell looks like during the Folk Festival."  I have no idea what inspired the person to do this (he even knew exactly where I lived, which made it all the more strange) but I knew to just let it go.  

If you watch the embedded YouTube vid (it's the entire Louis Theroux piece on crystal meth in Fresno), you'll see why "being like Louis" is an endearing way to break the ice with people you don't know well.  Louis never tries to be "down" or "hip" by showing off his knowledge about American slang or drug culture.  Whether it's an act that he puts on, or whether it's his real self on display, it doesn't really matter -- Louis builds the bridge, and he builds it well.  

No comments: