Author Topic: Jon Ronson - The Last Days of August  (Read 1231 times)

Jon Ronson - The Last Days of August
« on: January 19, 2019, 01:42:30 PM »
Jon Ronson is known for his storytelling. The journalist, writer and – latterly – podcaster has unearthed plenty of odd tales over the years, from soldiers experimenting with psychic powers in The Men Who Stare at Goats to nightmarish tales of internet trolling in So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.

In recent years, he’s provided an in-depth account of the effect of tech on the porn industry in Audible podcast The Butterfly Effect, a tale he is continuing in his latest series – The Last Days of August.

Released in seven chapters, the new podcast (available on Audible from Friday 4th January) sees Ronson investigate the death of porn star August Ames, who committed suicide days after she was subjected to a storm of negative comments on social media.

Ronson tells RadioTimes.com what led him to revisit the events that resulted in her death…

What is The Last Days of August about?

Ronson’s new podcast was prompted by the death of 23-year-old August – real name Mercedes Grabowski – in December 2017, days after a tweet she sent about refusing to work with an actor who had shot gay porn.

The post had led to a stream of negative comments, including pointed messages from notable figures in the porn industry.

whichever (lady) performer is replacing me tomorrow for @EroticaXNews , you’re shooting with a guy who has shot gay porn, just to let cha know. BS is all I can say🤷🏽‍♀️ Do agents really not care about who they’re representing? #ladirect I do my homework for my body🤓✏️🔍

— August Ames (@AugustAmesxxx) December 3, 2017

On 5th December August Ames was found dead, committing suicide in what appeared to be reaction to the cyberbullying she had endured. It was then that Ronson got involved. “I thought to myself, I guess I’m sort of uniquely qualified to tell this story because I’m the only person I know who’s both spent a lot of time in the porn world and also has spent a lot of time writing about public shaming on social media,” he tells RadioTimes.com.

“So, I approached August’s husband Kevin [Moore] for an interview and that’s how it began.”

Originally conceiving his reporting as an article profiling the people who piled in on August, the story soon spun into ten months of work alongside producer Lina Misitzis. That escalation was thanks in large part to the porn industry’s reaction to his first interviewee – Kevin.

Who is Kevin Moore?

Adult filmmaker Kevin was married to August at the time of her death and features heavily in Ronson’s podcast. In January 2018, shortly after Ronson made contact, he released a lengthy statement on his late wife’s website blaming cyberbullies for causing her death. “If you fire a gun into the air and that bullet randomly hits someone that you never intended to kill, you still killed them,” said Moore in a post that has since been deleted.

“I write this to make it crystal clear: Bullying took her life. If the harassment had not occurred, she would be alive today. She ended her life the day after the bullying began. To think they are unrelated is delusional.”

Having begun his investigation by speaking with Moore, Ronson soon chose to distance himself from the producer after hearing conflicting reports of him and the nature of his relationship with August from other members of the porn industry. Chief among them was Jessica Drake, a prominent porn star who had been singled out by Moore in his statement. Ronson interviewed her in a hotel room before she hosted the industry’s AVN Awards.

He recalls: “Kevin and his statement had laid much of the blame on Jessica so when we went up to Jessica’s hotel room, I thought we’d just be finding out what was happening in Jessica’s life – but then Jessica said this really unexpected thing to me. I’m paraphrasing, but she said ‘I’ve become this weird repository of information and a lot of people are coming up to me and telling me about him and her’, meaning Kevin and August. And I said ‘what are people saying?’ and she said ‘I can’t tell you’.

“The reason she couldn’t tell me was it would seem like she was trying to pass the blame to Kevin when she would be the one who’d look terrible. But she said she was in this very frustrating position where people keep telling her about Kevin and August and she can’t say anything. And she was crying and saying ‘someone needs to help me’. So that was enough for me and Lina to think, ‘we’ve got to keep going and see where this takes us’.”

The presenter and producer decided to avoid Kevin for a while. “For the first couple of months, we didn’t talk to him because we were trying to figure out what was going on and I didn’t want to be calling Kevin and saying ‘oh my god, we’ve just heard this’.”

But interviews with Kevin do feature heavily in the podcast, with Ronson eventually putting the various aspersions cast by the industry to August’s husband and recording his response. “The fact we were open and honest with him really helped. I think some journalists want to be secretive but we decided we absolutely owed Kevin to be open and honest with him about the things people were saying and how the story was evolving.”

First and foremost was a desire to give him an honest portrayal – and prevent another public shaming once the podcast was released. “It was such a big part of my thought process throughout this year – we must be fair to Kevin, we must make sure that Kevin comes out of this as a fully rounded human being,” Ronson says.

Does The Last Days of August become a murder mystery?
No. Ronson is keen to separate his podcast from the mix of amateur audio crime investigations that have sprung up in the wake of Serial. “I have a love/hate relationship with true crime podcasts. I’m a fan of them and I also find myself wincing at their ethical shortcomings quite frequently.”

He adds: “I would wake up in the middle of the night and think I could not make a show where we used suspicion of somebody as possibly being a murderer as a narrative device. I just can’t do it.”

Ronson’s means of veering away from the genre comes in the form of a statement made at the top of his second episode. While introducing an interview with porn star Mercedes Carrera, he tells listeners: “I don’t want this to be one of those shows that creates narrative tension by fuelling suspicion that a person might be a murderer. So I want to tell you that while we uncover some extraordinary, unexpected things, or that devastating mysteries will reveal themselves and be solved, this will not turn out to be murder mystery.”

He later tells RadioTimes.com: “What I’m saying is I want to make a show that tries to understand why people behave in difficult ways… I think Kevin comes out of this show as a complicated human being and I think by the end of the show a lot of people will have empathy for Kevin because I think we portray him as the complicated human being that people are. And it’s more about trying to understand him [rather] than condemn him.”

So, why did Jon Ronson decide August’s death was something he should investigate?
It’s an important question and Ronson admits having “long, dark thoughts” about the story he was reporting. But he remains convinced it needed to be told. “There were a few reasons why I decided to continue but one of the main ones was the realisation that not continuing would be worse than continuing. Just stopping and never knowing why August died, giving up on trying to solve that mystery – that’s the alternative.

“The death of a 23-year-old is unspeakably terrible and we just felt now we’d stumbled into this story, we absolutely had a duty to continue, to try and work out why it happened, and to stop it out of concerns about everything was worse than not stopping.”

The Last Days of August is available to listen to on Audible now and is expected to be more widely available on iTunes and other platforms some time around April

Re: Jon Ronson - The Last Days of August
« Reply #1 on: January 19, 2019, 01:44:20 PM »
Guess I'll wait till April then

metaltax

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Re: Jon Ronson - The Last Days of August
« Reply #2 on: January 19, 2019, 01:51:19 PM »
I binged this this week and it was quite gripping (and I say that as someone who generally doesn’t enjoy Ronson’s work).

Re: Jon Ronson - The Last Days of August
« Reply #3 on: January 19, 2019, 07:07:40 PM »
The choice of a pun title seems a bit off.

icehaven

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Re: Jon Ronson - The Last Days of August
« Reply #4 on: January 19, 2019, 07:15:39 PM »
So what is it then, her husband might have killed her?

FerriswheelBueller

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Re: Jon Ronson - The Last Days of August
« Reply #5 on: May 06, 2019, 01:12:01 AM »
So what is it then, her husband might have killed her?

(Went through the whole series last night in a bout of insomnia, here’s my hot take and response.)

No, that was a bit outlandish and they dropped that theory after about 10 minutes (and also took a pause from interviews to say “this will not be a murder mystery podcast” because Ronson felt a bit awkward that this was a real person who is dead and didn’t want to use that as a plot motivator). They don’t really focus on the idea that there was any foul play, other than acknowledging that there were rumours out there and that’s about it.

It is ultimately an examination of the person who died, her thoughts and feelings, her relationships and potential motivations for doing what she did. It was interesting, but I do sort of wonder what the point was. I like Jon a lot, and I liked the fact that he explored so many different facets, but it seemed to go in circles a bit and there were a lot of cliffhanger “I’ll tell you next time” endings which seemed a bit unnecessary to me.

It was clear that Kevin had a few flaws, and he was lying about the amount of effort he put into checking in on his wife because sometimes he’s distant and in hindsight feels very guilty about not trying to do more (or is worried he looks bad because he didn’t do more... either way). As a result, he exaggerated a few aspects to make himself look(/feel?) better about the whole situation. They focus in on the discrepancies in his account to make him look dodgy (searching for hours vs not, driving around all night vs not looking that much) but he’s not a murderer.

He’s weird and sleazy, but not actively malevolent from what I heard of him. They simultaneously big up the fact that he’s controlling, and also very distant. Like... those are two polar opposites. Some of his explanations sounded perfectly reasonable to me, and Ronson would cut away to say “ooh but he’s definitely lying here” when he wasn’t necessarily. I essentially agree with Kevin for her motives, and I reckon he was aggressively trying to drive the (valid) narrative of bullying to deflect criticism away from himself. He’s a sleazy guy, no question, but that’s kind of what Ronson concluded as well.

It’s worth a listen, but in their urgency to “paint a full picture”, I think they were overly critical of a man who, to be fair, was being interviewed for dozens of hours about his wife that killed herself a few months previously, as well as being confronted with all the rumours people in his industry were spreading about him. I’d be fairly done with it as well and I don’t blame him for saying he’d had enough.

I listened to this between 2am and 5am, so might not be the best reviewer but that’s my impression based on the recollection I have...

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Re: Jon Ronson - The Last Days of August
« Reply #6 on: May 06, 2019, 02:56:01 PM »
Excellent post, Ferris, I agree with your assessment and have nothing to add... apart from how funny it is during the end credits when Ronson sounds inexplicably startled and confused, like he's only just realised that he's hosted a podcast: "The Last Days of August was written by... me? Jon Ronson."


FerriswheelBueller

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Re: Jon Ronson - The Last Days of August
« Reply #7 on: May 06, 2019, 03:36:43 PM »
Excellent post, Ferris, I agree with your assessment and have nothing to add... apart from how funny it is during the end credits when Ronson sounds inexplicably startled and confused, like he's only just realised that he's hosted a podcast: "The Last Days of August was written by... me? Jon Ronson."

Bit of a long ramble, but as I wrote in my post I hadn’t slept particularly well!

He always does that weird delivery on his post-show credits. In the first season of this, he sounded both surprised and delighted to discover that he had been the person who wrote the show. This time, he just sounds surprised. It’s weird but he must do it on purpose for some reason...

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Re: Jon Ronson - The Last Days of August
« Reply #8 on: May 06, 2019, 04:16:43 PM »
He sounds like an amnesiac who's only just remembered who he is.

Re: Jon Ronson - The Last Days of August
« Reply #9 on: May 07, 2019, 04:26:29 AM »
The choice of a pun title seems a bit off.

Yeah, I'm with you there, the overall tone of the podcast isn't much better.  I don't think Ronson's the worst bloke in the world or anything, but part of me has to wonder if he didn't get a bit excited when he heard about her suicide.  "Public shaming and the modern porn industry?"  It's like the trilogy closer just fell in his lap.

Anyway, it's worth a listen and he did go some way to avoid tasteless dramatic devices and instantly shut down some theories before detailing them, so as not to mislead for suspense.

FerriswheelBueller

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Re: Jon Ronson - The Last Days of August
« Reply #10 on: May 07, 2019, 05:03:03 AM »
...part of me has to wonder if he didn't get a bit excited when he heard about her suicide.  "Public shaming and the modern porn industry?"  It's like the trilogy closer just fell in his lap.

Yeah that occurred to me as well. Jon’s smart and thoughtful, so he sort of preempted this by allowing someone (a different performer? I don’t remember her name) to ask him directly “why are you even doing this story?” and keeping that in the edit. He explains in a voiceover that he felt he was uniquely qualified to cover the story having spent time researching both the US porn industry and public shaming.

...and I thought “but you didn’t answer the question”. Believing you are qualified to cover a story is one thing. Deciding a young woman’s suicide is suitably newsworthy to spend a year or two making a podcast series and releasing them to the public is another. I don’t think we got a decent explanation as to why he wanted to make this, or what the driving force was. There were a few other examples of slightly skewed arguments in there that stood out to me.

Quote
Anyway, it's worth a listen and he did go some way to avoid tasteless dramatic devices and instantly shut down some theories before detailing them, so as not to mislead for suspense.

Yes absolutely - to be fair to him, he avoided a lot of tasteless stuff that would have been easy to do and driven clicks. Good on Jon and Lena for not going that route.

Reading my first response back it looks like I’m knocking it. I’m not, I thought it was good, I just thought it was very “Jon Ronson”, and it didn’t seem to know why it existed until it was already half done and they just plowed on.

Anyway, it’s defintely worth a listen just for the character portraits, but don’t expect any big themes or purpose to emerge out of it.