After reading The Elephant in the Room, Jon Ronson jumped up on my reading list. He had been drunkenly thrown at me some Christmas party 2 or 3 years ago (It was either the one where I was asked how we know what we know when we talk about science or the one woke up blitzed out of my mind at a Steely Dan cover band concert). I like to talk about books when I drink. It’s like burgers and beer, chicken and waffles, whiskey and blackberries. There might be something else going on with that list…my point is: They just go together, and when you talk about books you are guaranteed two things: 1) me talking over you despite promising myself I wouldn’t, and 2) A fistful of names I am to read because they are certain I will like them.
Now, books rarely move from that list as I am both elitist and listless in my readings, but Ronson managed to jump from the list to the pile, feeling curious as to what his other work may be like and if it would be unique combination of humorous and enlightening.
The answer- at least here, is a resounding yes.
Ronson has jumped into social media with a specific and hitherto underexplored agenda and the bodies and psychological horror he drags to the surface are stunning. They are tales of people’s lives ruined because of 18 words, over ill-timed mutterings, any and every little thing that can be used to awaken the feverish, frothing masses to socially destroy a single human being in record time.
It is the power of social media and we have all seen it happen, some even participated in it. Ronson delves through a small list of those who have been the object this great and mighty wall of scorn and through what I’m certain is magic comes away with an interview with people whose last desire in the entire damn world is to have more things written up about them.
And he does so beautifully. He humanizes them, perhaps a little too much on the side of victim, but pendulums being what they are I can hardly fault him for it. No one deserves to me lynched without a trial, socially or literally. His trademark style is still present and his research leads him towards fascinating side journeys and seems to hint at the necessary mulching of our personal histories that is going to have to be required in the new age where the things we said at 13 are going to be held over our head at 31.
Now, if I may cut ahead to a bit of hindsight (there are two more books of his that I will read after this one). So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed is by far the most journalistic and methodical of Ronson’s works. I can’t tell whether this is because he is evolving, growing, or simply finds himself somewhere closer to a concrete goal as of late when he brings his fingers to the keyboard. Regardless of the reason, there is a wholeness and connectivity in this book that the others lack, and it is, therefore the first I would recommend anyone read.
“We were creating a world where the smartest way to survive is to be bland.” ― Jon Ronson, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed