The Last Days of August
Of the many forms Ronson has arguably mastered (columns and book-length essays, TV and radio documentaries) it seems his great strength, now, is in the narrative investigative podcast. Working with Audible to serve them up as seven-episode podcasts that double as, essentially, an audiobook (they can be devoured in a sitting or two) Ronson’s latest, The Last Days of August builds on links from his last two projects.
His first foray into Audible podcasting was The Butterfly Effect – a look at the porn industry, and how if pornography is, for the most part, “free” then what is the cost. And who is paying? From interviewing kink-goers and givers through industry stalwarts he sought to understand the world.
His next project is linked to both that – and his still-relevant/recent-ish book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.
August Ames – born Mercedes Grabowski – was a porn star who took her own life at the end of 2017. Her husband, pornographer Kevin Moore sent out a tweet in the January of 2018 blaming cyber-bullying for Ames’ death.
She had been, erm, gang-banged on Twitter. She had tweeted that she didn’t want to work with “crossover” talent (male porn-stars who are bi or work “gay for pay”). Many from the industry called her on bi-phobia, homophobia, tore into her for a tweet that she sent out arguing that she should be informed about her co-workers and it should be her choice to turn down a scene.
She was publicly shamed.
So you see how this becomes a story Ronson has to tell.
And across the seven 30-ish minute episodes Ronson and co-producer Lina Misitzis weave a tale that starts off almost Pure True Crime only to look inward; questioning the motivations behind telling that sort of story – behind selling it – and deciding instead to find out about both August Ames and Mercedes Grabowski. Maybe she was never listened to – maybe she had a story that deserved to be told.
Ronson skillfully humanised the porn industry with The Butterfly Effect; examining the tension around exploitation – who is winning and just how is the game played.
Here it’s the same – though a darker truth is revealed. Piece by piece we enter into a 21st Century update of An Inspector Calls. Did you kill the porn-star August Ames? Were you complicit in her death?
With each new project Ronson is taking the pulse (and counting the toll) of the way we operate in this modern world. Not since Janet Malcolm has the role of the interlocutor been so brilliantly called into question – while the role is still fulfilled to full, clear obligation even with a knowing complicity.
The Last Days of August is frightening, harrowing, fascinating and a must-listen audiobook/podcast series.
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