For the third and final instalment of his BBC series, the documentarian is exploring porn’s MeToo movement
We’ve come to expect the bizarre from a Louis Theroux documentary, and the latest edition of his latest series, Forbidden America, doesn’t disappoint, at least in that respect. Three young women are standing outside in the California sun with three giant prosthetic penises strapped to them, as if they were about to cosh someone with half a pound of latex. Which, to be fair, is pretty much what happens next. In typical Theroux faux-naive style, the documentarian asks the performers with that trademark curiosity in his voice: “Is it weirdly empowering?” Sort of. The trio cheerfully tell Theroux that pegging makes a nice change for them to be on the other end of the stick, so to speak.
In “Porn’s MeToo”, Theroux is “traversing a battleground of consent”. As Theroux observes, porn is a world “dedicated to testing the boundaries of taste and taboo”, and being transformed by the web and by new attitudes and standards, and its own MeToo movement. The arrival of the likes of OnlyFans means that performers can deal directly with their customers, with no need for agents and producers taking their cut and pressuring them to do things they’d rather not. They can earn very good money. Mia Malkova, for example, who lives in a $4m castle in Portland, tells Theroux that she earns $150,000 to $250,000 a month – “I love OnlyFans,” she says. “I didn’t make that when I was shooting for a company.”
Less happy are the old blokes who used to control the industry and find themselves accused of sexual abuse. Theroux didn’t have to do much to get them to betray their sense of entitlement. Pierre Woodman (which I don’t imagine is his real name), for example, is a 58-year-old whose speciality is first-time anal sex with 18-year old women.
I do wonder whether Theroux might be losing his touch (no pun intended). As with when he confronted the white nationalists and radical rappers in the first two shows of the series, too many of his interlocutors are wise to him, and he doesn’t get that much out of them. Derek Hay, an agent accused of abusive and illegal practices, for example, remains cool throughout his conversation with Theroux, and refuses to take bait or get angry when his alleged transgressions are brought up. Theroux “apologises” for taking up so much of Hay’s time, but Hay doesn’t respond to the prompt to walk out of the scene or tell Theroux to get lost. He just carries on discussing and correcting the details of the case. Theroux’s familiar gentle, limp, schtick is getting a bit tired, to be honest, and we’ve seen him testing the boundaries of taste and taboo all too often before. If he had an OnlyFans account, he’d probably have to reach for his strap-on.