The Butterfly Effect
Jon Ronson’s latest release is this 7-episode podcast series which is presented as if (also) an audiobook…the complete audio-documentary/reading is just over three hours; this is binge-listening then at its finest.
Anyone familiar with Ronson’s work across his many fine books, documentaries, podcasts/radio programmes will know his way with a subject: starting off small and then widening the lens and/or taking something enormous in scope and splintering it to study the separate vestiges.
So here the subject, ostensibly, is free pornography. The ‘Butterfly Effect’ being to look at the consequences associated with the creation of PornHub, a site developed by German tech entrepreneur Fabian Thylmann. Through a series of interviews, with Thylmann, with porn performers and sex-industry workers and enthusiasts, Ronson assembles not only a motley crue but finds the weird, wonderful, quirky and the downright sad.
There’s no contempt for pornographers nor porn watchers – Ronson’s interest is in the hypocrisies, contrasts, ironies and frustrations. Thylmann is one of the wealthy tech oligarchs – he gave a lot of people what they wanted: free porn. But what was the cost?
The performers in porn films can’t get loans for business opportunities because they are deemed to be of dubious character, the man that made millions creating code to allow the instant streaming of any number of pornographic fantasies – from short sequences to entire movies – can get a $300m loan to buy up as many of the porn companies/channels as he likes…
We hear about bespoke porn – custom-made films that arrive at a huge price; not just financial. We learn that the sex-doll industry is thriving. We revisit the Ashley Madison scandal – again it’s about tech ruling and ruining the world.
There’s something sweet, sincere, thoughtful in the way Ronson presents to the world – even when the world he’s presenting is one where he’s found ironies, inconsistencies, deep, dark secrets, madness, weirdness and unfairness.
There’s something profound and earnest. As well as something cynical and manipulative. And it’s that balancing act, that line being straddled, that makes this compelling listening.
It’s also very much in and of Ronson’s voice – it’s about hearing his voice, his phrasing, his timing, his findings.
And it’s as satisfying as any of his books. Lining up well with his Publicly Shamed tome in particular; further dispatches from the mad future we’re already deep inside. So We Are Privately Shaming Ourselves? Yes. Or no. But either way we don’t know the truth cost of free pornography…