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A Chat With Jon Ronson
November 16, 2012 10:06 PM   Subscribe

But I couldn't do it. I spent three months and I just couldn't do it. And the reason was because I kept on meeting people who worked in the credit industry and they were really boring. I couldn't make them light up the page. And, as I said in The Psychopath Test, if you want to get away with wielding true malevolent power, be boring. Journalists hate writing about boring people, because we want to look good, you know?
A Chat With Writer Jon Ronson

Addicted To Weird - An Interview With Jon Ronson
I think there are themes and the biggest theme, for me anyway, is how everybody in the book, including me, feel in some way as if they’re lost at sea, and are grasping for something to get them through. And the thing that they often grasp for is something that’s kind of irrational, makes no sense, is ridiculous. But the book is never, I hope, condescending. It’s always kind of empathetic. And it becomes almost a celebration of irrationality as a human character trait to be cherished.
Other themes come through which really interest me. People’s fear of humiliation is a weird recurrent theme. The number of times people in the book — I noticed this when I was doing the audiobook for Audible — the number of times people say, “The thing that I was most afraid of in life was being humiliated or looking stupid, and here it was coming true.”
Ronson is the author of Them: Adventures with Extremists, The Men Who Stare at Goats, The Psychopath Test and Lost at Sea. Jon Ronson also wrote 'Amber Waves Of Grain' - previously, 'DIY Science' - previously, and 'Clear Eyes, Full Plates, Can't Puke' - previously
posted by the man of twists and turns (26 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

 
I love Ronson and there is some quality writing on The Awl, but the Awl really needs to drop its ongoing, long-running, very repetitive ugly casual mocking of Britain, and especially British knife crime victims.
posted by Bwithh at 10:24 PM on November 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


he keeps popping up here!

"It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's...Some Dude?!" - previously and "Rebecca Coriam, Lost At Sea" - Previously and "How To Spot A Psychopath" - previously
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:26 PM on November 16, 2012


This one too: Stanley Kubrick's Boxes
posted by carsonb at 10:34 PM on November 16, 2012


He never did get to interview Bin Laden...
posted by Artw at 10:35 PM on November 16, 2012


I had no idea that all of these articles that I had read (mainly through FPPs!) were all by the same person.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:05 PM on November 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


And that's not even counting the times it's actually Louis Theroux!
posted by Artw at 11:45 PM on November 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


He sounds like he'd be a hoot to talk to. And he thinks quiet, introverted Americans are lovely! So we'd hit it off great, I'm sure.
posted by Michael Roberts at 12:28 AM on November 17, 2012


Certainly THEM is one of the most insightful and interesting books I've ever read. Especially if you spend a lot of time on the Internet. I recommend all his writing.
posted by alasdair at 2:10 AM on November 17, 2012


So much truth in the "boring" quote. Most people dismiss conspiracies because the theories seem unlikely. I disagree. I can totally see how even 9/11 could happen. But the truth is that there is no reason, it's inefficient evil. The really bad stuff happens in plain sight, right in front of us, every day. But nobody reports on it, or it's in depressing lefty magazines that nobody reads, or in tedious economics reports. The reports never build a big picture that popular opinion can grab onto, because it's all so mundane, so dull, so complicated and yawn-inducing. That's the real problem. And worse, we are usually part of the system, so we end up supporting it even though we feel frustrated: there's no "tiny group of bad guys" narrative.

Tedium is evil's cloak of invisibility.
posted by EnterTheStory at 2:56 AM on November 17, 2012 [17 favorites]


Seems like Jon Ronson is the new Gladwell/Lehrer in the pop-nonfiction anecdote selling business. I think it is a good change
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 4:59 AM on November 17, 2012


I kind of want to read Lost at Sea, but the Amazon reviews are all people saying stuff like "he deals with crazy so we don't have to!" Can anyone confirm that it isn't a book for condescending pricks who think they're above "weirdos," because that sure seems to be the audience Ronson has found.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:05 AM on November 17, 2012


He should do The Men Who Stare at Goatse
posted by iotic at 5:27 AM on November 17, 2012


kittens for breakfast: "Can anyone confirm that it isn't a book for condescending pricks who think they're above "weirdos," because that sure seems to be the audience Ronson has found."

I didn't find it so. Several of the stories are less about crazy than unfortunates, like the title piece on Rebecca Coriam, who was lost on a Disney cruise. Or Richard Cullen who committed suicide after running up debts by paying off the previous card with the next one, and whose widow is still getting credit card offers. And he tends to be sympathetic with his subjects, even if they arguably don't deserve it (though Sylvia Browne doesn't get much, reasonably enough).
posted by Auz at 5:51 AM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd say Ronson's tone is generally sympathetic towards his subjects. He's more interested in understanding their eccentricities and describing them for us than in mocking or condemning anyone. At its worst, this gentle approach can drift into outright credulity, but by and large Ronson makes it work.
posted by Paul Slade at 6:11 AM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ronson has a certain humility about him that keeps him from being condescending, and he shows a lot of empathy with many of his subjects. I think he's brilliant andfind his work fascinating, and it's great to see him getting more attention. If you're going to read one Ronson book, though, I'd pick The Psychopath Test.
posted by hazyjane at 6:46 AM on November 17, 2012


Tedium is evil's cloak of invisibility.

Barely legal is both a Hustler porn movie series and Standard Operating Procedure for all corporations.
posted by srboisvert at 7:01 AM on November 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


Ronson has a certain humility about him that keeps him from being condescending, and he shows a lot of empathy with many of his subjects

Towards the end of THEM, Ronson works with Alex Jones to infiltrate (read "stroll into") Bohemian Grove. His account of the completely different impressions they have of the proceedings is both an unsparing take down and a truly sympathetic portrait of Jones.

Can anyone confirm that it isn't a book for condescending pricks who think they're above "weirdos," because that sure seems to be the audience Ronson has found.

While Ronson is well beloved in skeptic circle he's definitely not doing the sort of facile sneering debunking that pops up in a lot of similar investigations (and which I do enjoy occasionally, I must admit).
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 7:13 AM on November 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


I enjoyed reading The Men That Stare At Goats, but the movie thoroughly confused me. I thought the book was nonfiction reporting, but the movie was almost entirely fictional. And then it made me wonder if parts of the book were fictional ...? Very confusing.
posted by Afroblanco at 7:19 AM on November 17, 2012


I kind of want to read Lost at Sea, but the Amazon reviews are all people saying stuff like "he deals with crazy so we don't have to!" Can anyone confirm that it isn't a book for condescending pricks who think they're above "weirdos,"
I haven't read that particular book, but I've read two of his books, and neither seemed condescending to me. In my opinion, he's good at humanizing people who many would immediately condescend to.
because that sure seems to be the audience Ronson has found.
... Ah. I see.
posted by Flunkie at 9:42 AM on November 17, 2012


I enjoyed reading The Men That Stare At Goats, but the movie thoroughly confused me.

The existence of the movie thoroughly confuses me.
posted by Artw at 9:50 AM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was fascinated by Ronson's anecdote, at the end of the 'addicted to wierd' interview about suspecting that a spy is a psychopath. I became very interested in psychopaths, a few years ago, because I was meeting so many intelligence officers (especially case officers) who struck me as being 'off' somehow. Background research, including Hare's work, convinced me that these people were exhibiting psychopathic traits. It raises real questions about our HUMINT capabilities if we're intentionally employing such people.
posted by Dreadnought at 10:08 AM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Surely non-psychopaths would make really shit spies.
posted by fullerine at 10:55 AM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


srboisvert: Barely legal is both a Hustler porn movie series and Standard Operating Procedure for all corporations.
posted by srboisvert
You are some sort of social-sciences supergenius. I will quote this henceforth.
posted by IAmBroom at 6:07 PM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


"He sounds like he'd be a hoot to talk to."

That's the impression we got, when we attended one of his public readings / discussion sessions the other month. Two of the things that struck me: he actually seems to enjoy questions from the floor, and he does actually show a marked degree of empathy with the people he writes about. I can't speak for his audience, but Ronson himself, I felt, is not about the nudge-wink and the cheap lols.
posted by Prince Lazy I at 12:55 AM on November 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


He used to do a weekly column in the Guardian, which was quite amusing. (This was his final one)
posted by Kiwi at 2:42 PM on November 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


There's also the podcast of his Radio 4 series, Jon Ronson On...: six series, thirty-odd half-hour episodes, all fascinating.

His out-of-print first book, Clubbed Class, isn't as essential as the later ones. The used copies on Amazon are heftily priced right now; I'd wait until they come down again.
posted by rory at 4:46 AM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


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