Fawlty Towers, the much-venerated BBC sitcom that first aired more than 40 years ago, is essentially a vehicle for John Cleese to careen about the set in a near-constant state of seething, impotent rage. Each of the episodes that I've seen begins with a simple comedic misunderstanding of sorts that rapidly spirals out of control until Cleese is almost ready to murder someone; at one point, he actually smothered a hotel guest into a state of unconsciousness. It can be a lot of fun to watch, but it can also be exhausting. And having a supporting character whose main shtick is having a funny accent and struggling to understand English is... well, it was made 40 years ago, I suppose.
What a mundane show this is! Each hour-long episode consists of people completing three baking challenges in a kitchen-y tent thing and... that's it. I mean, sure, there's some sort of prestigious title at stake, but there's no real tension or conflict to speak of. The contestants' emotional states run the gamut from mild disappointment to humble satisfaction, and the show is scored to the sound of people waiting quietly for their ovens' timers to go off.
The show's leisurely pace and gentle tone, however, are unexpectedly intoxicating. Instead of berating the contestants, the show's hosts are content to drop in occasionally, fire off some terrible puns, and then slip out of view for long periods of time. There are multiple long, uninterrupted shots of people standing still while one of the two "fussy" judges takes a bite out of a Swiss roll. How could there possibly be any poverty or civil strife in the world when something like this is on the air? I want to wrap this show around myself like a blanket before falling asleep every night.
As this was the first documentary by Louis Theroux that I have ever seen (hey y'all, remember the premise of this website?), I found his interviewing style to be somewhat remarkable. Despite inserting himself into a social circle as reprehensible as a chapter of neo-Nazis, Theroux rarely stepped in to discussions and directly rebuked any of the vile things that he heard. Instead, his default mode is to ask relatively mundane questions, develop somewhat of a rapport with his subjects and then gently prod them for more information. The neo-Nazis didn't need much of an excuse to spiral off into inflammatory rants all on their own.
While watching this, I was surprised to find myself chuckling as often as I did, as most of the adult neo-Nazis filmed here come across as somewhat feckless and *very* hypocritical. To be clear, they were shown to be completely immersed an ideology of bigotry and stupidity, proudly throwing out the n-word and speaking wistfully of the next upcoming American Revolution. At the same time, most of their activism appeared to manifest in a bunch of dull house parties and a pointless "diplomatic" mission to Mexico. The only person that is not already completely bought in to their enthusiasm for racial hatred that appears to associate himself with them is a cartoonish blowhard of a publicity manager who doesn't even bother to cover up the fact that he's dating a Mexican woman while working for people that find that abhorrent.
Things take a turn for the tragic when Theroux turns his focus away from those bumbling morons over to two young girls. Their mother, who takes her hatred of all things non-white very seriously, has prevented them from having any chance at a normal upbringing by homeschooling her daughters and pushing them into early careers as hate-speech child stars. Hearing the two 11-year-old girls happily discuss the one video game that they're allowed to play, which literally entails shooting people who aren't white, is devastating. As disgusting as the neo-Nazi ideology is, it has been clearly discredited in modern society, and the remaining adults that choose to cling to it aren't going to get to bring about their "revolution' anytime soon. For the children stuck in this environment, however, this ideology will make it close for impossible for them to have a chance to smoothly transition into society once they become adults.
Racism, of course, hasn't been "solved" as a problem in this country. Its pernicious effects continue to permeate throughout every aspect of society, from the criminal justice system to unequal access to economic opportunities and more. Overt hate groups also continue to inflict real harm, like committing far more domestic terrorist attacks each year than "jihadists." Even with this in mind, it's still somewhat comforting to see just how laughable the lives of these neo-Nazis appear to be. We need to figure out a way to get children away from them, though, because raising them in that kind of an environment is tantamount to child abuse.