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What Jon Ronson learned about compassion from the porn industry

A conversation with Jon Ronson about his new podcast The Last Days of August, a follow up to his previous series The Butterfly Effect.
(Courtesy of Jon Ronson.)
Listen to the full episode10:47

After The Butterfly Effect, Jon Ronson's 2017 podcast about the porn industry and how it changed with the advent of the internet, Ronson thought he'd exhausted that subject. 

But then after an event where he presented some stories from The Butterfly Effect he found that he was more interested in speaking with the attendees from the porn industry. "There were like 2,000 people in the audience and 1,995 of them were L.A., NPR hipsters and 5 of them were porn stars," he laughs. "And at the end of the show I found myself just wanting to talk to the porn people, because these were the people I'd just spent a year with."

He realized that he wanted to keep spending time with this community, to continue to hear their stories. "But what I didn't realize was that I would be spending time with them in a much more bleak way."

The Last Days of August is about the suicide of adult film start August Ames, whose real name is Mercedes Grabowski. In the days leading up to her death, Ames was at the centre of a Twitter storm. She had Tweeted that she didn't want to perform a scene with an actor who had performed in gay porn, and she faced immediate backlash from others in the industry. 

Prior to The Butterfly Effect, Ronson wrote the book on social media backlash and public shaming — So You've Been Publicly Shamed. "So when August died, my first thought was pretty shallow actually," Ronson admits. "I thought, well I'm the only person I know who has spent a lot of time in the porn world and has also spent a lot of looking at public shaming...so it was just as quick a thought as that."

Initially, he thought that he would conduct interviews that would not only humanize August, but also the people who harangued her on social media.

But when he started researching the story in more detail, he found that there was lot more going on beneath the surface. "The story changed very quickly," he says. "I began to hear a whole bunch of things that I didn't expect."

The Twitter harassment wasn't the only challenging thing going on in Ames' life in the lead up to her death. "But there were people in the industry who wanted to bury, for their own reasons, certain things that had happened to August," he says. "So my producer Lena and I were suddenly in this very strange, difficult, uncomfortable position. What we thought was just a regular fact-check to a regular tragedy, we were suddenly in a position where we had to dig around and find all these other things."

Through his interviews, Ronson realized that a lot of people in the porn world (like people everywhere else) have "baggage," as he puts it. "And when baggage hits baggage, you've got a problem. I think The Last Days of August is a dissection of all of those things, it's a dissection of the psychological biases we play on ourselves — all of us, not just people in porn," he says. "We're living in a world where people don't really talk, or listen, to each other anymore...everybody retreats to their corners and yells at each other. And I think The Last Days of August is a kind of call for people to start listening instead of shouting or withdrawing." 


You can hear the full episode featuring Jon Ronson by clicking here.

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