BBC Airs Louis Theroux's 'Forbidden America' Episode on the Adult Industry

BBC Airs Louis Theroux's 'Forbidden America' Episode on the Adult Industry

LONDON —  British TV channel BBC Two aired yesterday the third and final episode of veteran presenter Louis Theroux’s show “Forbidden America,” this time focusing on the adult industry.

The episode features segments shot in Portland at Mia Malkova’s Blackberry Castle shoot house; at Ginger Banks' apartment; at Michael Vegas and Siouxsie Q’s home studio; at a Budapest hotel set with French gonzo webmaster Pierre Woodman; with a Jennifer Steele, who accused Ron Jeremy of rape; at a Bellesa set directed by Jacky St. James, with Vegas and Bunny Colby; and at agent Derek Hay’s Las Vegas tattoo parlor.

Although Theroux presents himself as a documentary filmmaker and his TV shows are often described as documentaries, the set visits depicted on “Forbidden America” were clearly staged for the program, making the final result more like a standard “60 Minutes”-style, editorializing visual segment than a probing exploration of “#MeToo in the porn industry,” as the BBC had advertised.

Back in June 2021, Theroux's producers cast a wide net for possible U.S. adult industry interviewees for the show. Several of those approached, including XBIZ’s own news editor, declined due to the BBC’s demonstrably biased and stigmatizing reporting on sex worker rights and sexual expression.

Inexplicably, though supposedly covering “Forbidden America,” the show devoted two lengthy segments, by far the longest in the pseudo-documentary, to Woodman — a single French producer based in Hungary who often works, with no crew, out of a Budapest hotel room. Neither the BBC nor Theroux explained how this might constitute a look at “forbidden America.”

Ominous Voiceover, Eerie Sound Design

The typical BBC slant — i.e., an attempt to demonize the adult industry — was achieved by coupling  Theroux’s signature deadpan, affectless delivery of ominous lines with eerie, minimalist sound design that swathed the entire presentation in a tenebrous soundtrack reminiscent of Delia Derbyshire’s aural landscapes for vintage “Dr. Who.”

This is how Theroux’s truculent voiceover described a 25-year-old sex worker from Spain — though the BBC’s subtitles erroneously claimed she was speaking Portuguese — repeatedly declaring she had consensually agreed to shoot an anal scene for Woodman for 1,500 euros:

“The show was happening in a suite three floors down. Before the action, there would be a quick conversation. Having retired upstairs as the scene took place, I was mainly conscious of what Scheherazade might be feeling having her first-ever anal sex on camera with someone whose language she didn’t speak and no one else around. Two hours later, they emerged.”

Theroux seemingly chose to ignore the fact that the performer had a translator with her, that performers often embellish their experiences or lack thereof (“I’ve never done anal in my private life”) for the benefit of fan fantasies, and that an adult woman kept saying, in perfectly conversational Spanish, that she had “a very good, in truth a great experience” and that she “wanted to do this for [her] career, to start doing anal.”

Instead, soundtracked by the nonstop eerie score, Theroux kept accosting Woodman with implications that his models' consent was relative, declaring “I’m a 51-year-old man, I’m not an 18-year-old girl!” and salaciously going back to his own personal disgust/obsession with young women having anal sex.

'Young Women' vs. 'Creepy Old Men'

The program simplified its narrative about a supposed change in the industry by limiting it to “young women” performers and “creepy old men” [sic] producers, although Michael Vegas has performed in bi scenes and one of the performers seen in passing, Lola Fae, identifies as nonbinary. There were no voices of gay male performers or producers, or of any male performers other than Vegas.

The scale was tipped in the direction of the BBC’s stigmatizing, patronizing house style in small ways as well.

Bellesa was oddly identified in the voiceover as “a female-run studio that was said [sic] to be giving its stars more control,” and the acclaimed filmmaker/producer in charge was described as “the director [who] went by the porn name Jacky St. James,” instead of simply “Jacky St. James.”

Another lengthy segment of the show was devoted to an interview with Derek Hay, who was briefly joined by Direct Models client Jamie Jett. Theroux was familiar with Hay from his 2012 pseudo-documentary “Twilight of the Porn Stars,” which was shot in 2011, and returned to ask him about his recent legal troubles.

The interview between Hay and Theroux was weirdly stilted, and obviously edited for maximum awkwardness between them, including constant interruptions for Hay to run his tattoo parlor, which Theroux inexplicably chose to leave in.

Nothing of what Hay said added any information or background to his current legal battles against former clients, or the criminal accusations against him or any of his licensing issues, all of which would be several months out of date at this point.

'Shut Up, Dad'

In an extensive interview this month with the U.K.’s Radio Times promoting “Forbidden America,” Theroux said, “I genuinely see sex work as work, and valid work, and I know that’s controversial in some quarters. These stories are hard to tell, because enlightened, thoughtful, intelligent people can disagree passionately about what it means to be paid to have sex.”

Despite Theroux's purported “enlightened” attitude, however, he and his BBC handlers made the decision to lump the adult industry together with “gangsta rappers and far-right influencers” in their exposé of “Forbidden America” — which somehow also involves 58-year-old Frenchmen who live and work in Budapest.

“In my life, of course, I’ve been a user of porn,” Theroux revealed to Radio Times. “I sort of see it as a bit like —  maybe this sounds harsh, but it’s a bit like junk food, right? But there are times in your life when you can’t get a decent meal, or you’re in a rush, or you’re just trying to get a need met.”

“It’s not something you’re especially proud of using,” he added.

While a genuine documentarian, observing and listening and reporting, might have understood and depicted sex work as something complex, Theroux’s version of “supporting” sex workers flattens and reduces their experience to the supposed struggle of “young [female] performers trying to escape the influence of older men” in a job that he seems able to respect and understand only if it’s completely de-eroticized.

“Is [covering a porn set] sexy?” he asked himself. “Listen, some of the women are obviously attractive, but when you see the nuts and bolts — no pun intended — it’s quite evidently not being done for pleasure. It’s a day at the office.”

“I’m a professional and always in work mode,” he chuckled to the Radio Times, “so even if it were sexy, I would disable my sexy circuits for the duration of the shoot. It’s a bit comparable to being on location when you’re filming surgery: it’s oddly unaffecting. You would think it’s a bit off-putting, or even revolting, seeing someone cut open, and similarly with sex — but you’re actually almost too close to it and it’s all slightly too surreal to have that much of an impact.”

Theroux even told the Radio Times he is uncomfortable with talking to his children about sex and porn, and sees it as a kind of unpleasant chore.

“I’ve talked to them,” he said. “I have said to them, ‘When you see porn, if this is something you’ve stumbled across, just so you know, that’s not the real world. That’s not how people have sex. That’s people who are performing and doing things to satisfy consumers and don’t mistake it for how sex takes place.’ Along those lines. And it’s like, ‘Shut up, Dad.’”

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