Critically acclaimed, award-winning, best-selling writer, journalist and documentary filmmaker Jon Ronson returns to the UK in May with his new show Tales from The Last Days of August and The Butterfly Effect. Recently we spoke to the US based Ronson about the show and what he is looking forward to most about his upcoming return to the UK.
1. Thanks for your time Jon. You’ve got the new show coming up in May, what can you tell us about this show?
“Well, the second story I did in the p*rn world which will be what makes up some of this show is based on the death of a p*rn star named August Ames. I never met her but my producer did when we were doing an earlier story. About six months after we left the p*rn world, August was found dead in a park in the San Fernando valley and people started telling us. The story was that it was a social media suicide after she’d been bullied on Twitter. When we started looking into it became a lot more complicated. People thought she’d been murdered by her husband. I always wanted to do a true crime podcast which proves you do get what you wish for! We found ourselves in a very different situation and we were being told all these very serious things. We were tasked with solving the mystery of what happened to August, how did she die. Much of the second half of the show will be me telling that story. I’ll be talking about things like the impact it had on me and my own mental health.”
2. Like you said, the podcast took a different direction after August’s death. What were your original aims?
“There are two separate stories – there’s the Butterfly Effect and then The Last Days of August. They’re both set in the p*rn world but they’re very different to each other in every way. The Butterfly Effect was a really funny upbeat story of the consequences of the tech takeover of the industry. It could be about any industry and the tech takeover like maybe the music industry but it’s about the p*rn industry. It’s a really twisty, turny lovely story. It went to number one in the podcast charts and was really successful. People really warmed to the people and how delightful the people were.”
3. Did the reaction to The Butterfly Effect surprise you given the subject matter?
“It did in a way. What you’ve got to realise is that people don’t want to know anything about the lifes of the performers and the reason they don’t is because if they’re too curious it will make them feel bad about themselves. I love telling stories about those awkward, difficult moments. I’ve been doing that all of my career. I was very pleased that people took The Butterfly Effect with the warmth that we made it with. It was a really nice way to make large numbers of people feel warmly towards performers.”
4. There are rumoured changes in plan for the way porn is accessed on the internet. Do you think that is a good thing given your experience within the industry?
“Well, I could give you a really long answer. Firstly, there is clearly something very wrong in Britain when nearly every young person learns about sex from watching P**nhub. That’s clearly detrimental to peoples mental health and we can prove that by showing that during our research for The Butterfly Effect, we found that erectile dysfunction in 18-24 year-olds has gone up by 1000%. On that side of things I think it is sensible to restrict for under-18s. However, I think the better thing to do would be to educate people about the pros and cons of porn. I had a phone call from this group the other week and I got the feeling they were anti-p*rn and basically want to say that all p*rn was bad. They wanted to know if I could help them in their “all p*rn was bad quest” and my answer to that was “I can’t”. For me the only p*rn that is bad is non-consensual. As for the age-verification, I understand why and yes it can be a good thing but I think what would be better is for young people to understand the porn world better and to see the performers as human beings who have these wonderful personal stories and lives as well as the terrible tragedies like the death of August.”
5. On the subject of August’s death, there have been a lot of high profile suicides recently. Do you think the internet has become an easy place for people to bully and shame others and can anything be done to address it?
“My answer is the same as the last answer. The more we see our fellow humans as actual humans and not a thing to hate or dehumanize then the better the world will be. Twitter is a good example as we treat people like either the most extraordinary hero or the most despicable villain. Both those things are dehumanizing in a way because most people aren’t extraordinary heroes or terrible villains. Again, we’re living in a time where people find it difficult to listen and talk to other people. Social Media has got a lot to do with that as it is very good at turning people into caricatures which we can destroy easily because they aren’t actual human beings.”
6. Do you think the use of social media is so massive now that it would be hard to fix the problems it causes ?
“That’s the thing about it and I think we’ll reach a point where everybody will get shamed and maybe that’s the answer? Everybody will get shamed then people will feel nervous about shaming other people. What you’ve got to remember when we shame people on Twitter we are doing and saying things that we are most afraid will happen to us. When my Public Shaming book came out some shamers decided to have a go at me because they thought shaming was an important progressive weapon. A whole bunch of those people got shamed themselves then emailed me to apologise. I think it’s inevitable that there will come a time when everyone gets shamed. Hopefully, when that happens, it will make people feel differently about doing it to other people. The purpose of me writing So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed was that I wanted the reader to feel the agony… like the Blair Witch Project… where people would feel the agony of what it feels like to be at the end of a shaming. The best compliments are when people are saying things like “I was sweating reading it!” and that was what I intended!”
7. The flip side of the coin must be when you get compliments like that?
“Well, I wanted to do good in the world. I want to try and be compassionate and empathetic where I can be. That’s my aim!”
8. Going back to the Podcast, how does it translate to a stage show?
“I’ve done little versions already. I did a little version of it in London a few months ago. People who have seen my shows already will know that I have been quite ambitious when it comes to different ways of telling stories on www. When I did the My Psychopath And I which was based on the Psychopath Test, I had special guests who would tell their stories. When I was touring the Frank show, I had a band that would come up on stage with me. For this show I’ve got lots of audio and visual clips so it will kind of be like a live documentary unfolding on stage with video and audio and me telling stories. It may be the last tour I ever do so I’m hoping to make it a good one!”
9. What are your plans following this tour then?
“I’m working on a couple of screenplays at the moment. I do think that, when this tour is over, I’ll crawl back to New York and start writing a book. It’s going to be an exhausting three weeks but I’m looking forward to it… I’m writing the show and it’s pretty ambitious. Really weird, funny video clips, great stories, photographs, audio clips, stories. It’s going to be good and I hope the audience will like it.”
10. Just to finish Jon, thanks for your time, you’ll be returning to the UK, what are you most looking forward to about coming back given the political chaos that is going on here at the moment?
“What am I looking forward to the most? London still very much feels like home to me. I have lots of friends who I go and visit. So just being back in London is great. I also love meeting the people who like my stuff at signings after the show. My readers and listeners are really nice people, nerdy, neurotic people just like me. Most of the time as a writer you spend alone in a room so, to get out and meet people who like your work is really lovely so I think that is what I’m looking forward to the most.”
For more information on the upcoming tour dates click here.