Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Lost at Sea: The Jon Ronson Mysteries

With his faux innocence and deadpan reactions to his often deeply weird subject matter, it's hard not to think of Jon Ronson as the Louis Theroux of the written word.  A comparison which is brought up in this collection of essays by pop pervert Jonathan King, who probably wishes Theroux had done a programme on him instead, just so he'd have been back on telly...

The man who brought us Paloma Blanca is just one of a dizzying array of freaks and (a few) normal people Ronson meets in this book.  It starts strongly with a look at the cult-like phenonenon of Deal or No Deal.  His interactions with Noel Edmonds and the contestants are hilarious - especially one man compared by Noel to a "funeral director" who becomes desperate to show the host that he really is positive and happy, and so deserving of the blessings of the cosmos.  They're all deeply paranoid that "the banker" is keeping a close watch on them all.  The truth is predictable, but still faintly sinister.

There's a priceless interview with the Insane Clown Posse, who managed to keep the fact they were secret evangelical Christians from their fans for years.  It seems they managed this by being complete idiots.  And no, they still don't know how magnets work.  He visits an alien abduction convention with none other than Robbie Williams, who seems relatively sane in this company.  And there's a fascinating look through the archives of Stanley Kubrick, whose attention to detail was even more bonkers than I'd ever thought.

I also loved the seminar retreat with Paul McKenna and his mentor, the crazy father of neurolinguistic programming Richard Bandler, who comes across as pretty scary and genuinely unhinged.  Despite that, Ronson says the NPL McKenna did on him actually worked - something of a first in the long line of cults and pseudosciences he's spent years looking into.  More typical is the deeply unpleasant and cynical "psychic" Sylvia Browne, who's made a fortune making up stories for parents whose children have been abducted, and who appears to hand out good or bad news from beyond the veil depending on her mercurial mood swings.  Nasty piece of work.

I really rate Ronson as a journalist.  He's got an eye for the bizarre story no-one else has spotted, he's not afraid to do the legwork and the truth really does seem to be more important than the story.  Yes, he can stitch up his subjects, but (as with Theroux) he merely gives them enough rope to hang themselves.  Also, he's very likeable.  He reads the audiobook himself, and on more than one occassion clearly has to stop himself laughing.  Most of all, there's his sense of humanity.  Ronson's always looking for the good in people, and he's certainly not judgemental, but even in his choice of subject matter it's obvious that, under that diffident Welsh Mr Muscle demeanour, there's a keen sense of right and wrong.

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