Jon Ronson – Tales from “The Butterfly Effect” and “The Last Days of August”, Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh, 27/5/19


Jon Ronson talks in the same voice with which he writes.

Softly and carefully.

With wit and compassion in equal measure.

He rushes to the fringes of society and embraces the people he meets there.

Much of his work is concerned with mental illness and the fact that, despite what we might tell ourselves, our own good fortune in that area is, at best, temporary and, at worst, an illusion.

Tonight he guides us through his experiences with porn people.

Marginal figures who many people hold in contempt…until they are alone with their laptop.

In these people Ronson found a community, a community of people working out a variety of troubles, problems, issues and concerns with other people who shared them.  Rather than judging them he found a way to find common ground, a way to see them as people and not as objects.

“The Butterfly Effect” is, on the surface, about the impact of the tech-bro takeover of the porn world and “The Last Days of August” is the even more tragic and devastating tale of August Ames, a young woman, and porn person, who took her own life and the impact that had on a whole variety of people.

Both stories contain moments where laughter is the only reasonable response…particularly when confronted with the realities of “bespoke porn” which, it transpires, is more peculiar and innocent than I would have imagined.

It is a wonderfully engaging evening.

As ever with his work you are left feeling uplifted but, at the same time, driven to ask yourself some serious, possibly soul searching, questions about yourself, your life, your views and the way in which you interact with the world around you.

Ronson is also an incredibly honest voice, he talks frankly and honestly about his own experiences with poor mental health; revealing anxieties, phobias, obsessions and more that have plagued him or, maybe, shaped him.  When he discusses his recent diagnosis of adjustment disorder and the impact this had on him I found myself silently weeping in my seat.  If he didn’t hate being touched I would have hugged him, told him I understood and reassured him that he wasn’t alone.

At the end of the evening time is given over to questions and answers.

What an opportunity.

To ask questions about the world of the conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones or the people involved in Ruby Ridge which he covered in “Them”.  To delve a little deeper into the issue of public shaming and the ugliness of the Twitter mob.  To find out what it was really like to be in a band with Frank Sidebottom.  To ask if he can still spot a psychopath…and see if he thinks you are one!

There are questions about some of those sorts of things.

But there is one question that attempts to take the entire room to a different place.

A person asks why he has only spoken about women (“damsels in distress”) over the course of the evening and not men…why?  “Did you even speak to any men?”  “Did you even mention any of them this evening?”

It is an awkward moment.

The reason it is awkward is because throughout the evening Jon has spoken about many of the men in the porn world…performers, directors, photographers, brothers, husbands, boyfriends.  He has made explicit reference to who they are and what their role in both stories is.  This means that the person asking the question isn’t actually asking a question…they are attempting, crudely, to conduct a public shaming.  They haven’t listened.  They have arrived with a point of view and they have heard only things that meet their ill informed judgement.  I find myself getting cross and upset at the same time.  “Why” I ask myself “Would you spend money and two hours of your time to listen to someone that you have already decided is someone you deem to be a bad person?”  It is a genuinely ugly moment.

The truth, of course, is that Ronson is a thoughtful and careful writer, thinker and speaker…he is not guilty of what this person is attempting to accuse him of.  Thankfully he deals with the question firmly and clearly and the microphone is removed from the inquisitors hand before they can continue with this ill informed and nasty blast of bullying.

If you are going to see the show please take the opportunity to ask questions that are honest and sincere…to do anything other than that is to feed into a mindset and a belief system that will divide people and that is the opposite of what the show is attempting to do.

Be kind.