My favourite author at the moment is Jon Ronson. I've followed him on Twitter for ages, and read pieces online here and there. I read his Lost At Sea some months back and was sold.
He is a journalist and writes non-fiction about unusual and odd topics, extremists, paranormal and new age units in the military, psychopaths, cults, beliefs, and so on.
Jon writes with a mix of investigative journalism and adds himself into the story with wry wit. He is a pleasure to read, the subject matter strange and unique, and more often than not laugh out loud funny.
So when I realised he would be part of the Melbourne FODI and Writers Festival when I was there, I knew I had to get tickets. When I found out he was being interviewed by John Safran, safely the Australian equivalent of Ronson, and someone I have admired for a long time, well I got those tickets post haste! The cherry on top of what I knew would be a great evening was it would be held in the Athenaeum Library Theatre.
It was a cold and rainy Melbourne night when we lined up in the theatre foyer with hundreds of others. The foyer was nothing that special, though it did feel like you had stepped into another time. This picture above us had us intrigued as to what the ladies did. Were they ushers, part of a religious sect, wives of club members, it kept us company while we waited.
The tickets were all GA, so once the doors opened it was every man for themselves, and we found great seats in the middle a few rows back from the stage. Pretty much the seats I'd have picked if given the chance.
Inside the theatre was lush and glorious, like all the old theatres of that era.
Finally Jon and John arrived on stage. They were obviously friends, I mean, how could they not, such an obvious pairing, with mutual respect. Safran was contained, he let Ronson do his thing, asking questions from time to time and keeping things flowing and on track.
The session was based on his latest books, So You've Been Publicly Shamed, which I had read. This is about the obsessive trolling of people who make mistakes online to the extent of ruining their lives. Often these people have said something stupid or offensive and possibly need to have a finger pointed at them, but not to the extent they have experienced. We've all been there, and it feels awful, but usually within a day someone else has taken over! The people he interviews and talks about in his book, have had it far worse, depression, suicidal, loss of vocation, family, friends. And the vitriol they experience online far worse than anything they originally said.
One of the main subjects in his book, and this talk, was Justine Sacco - the chick who made a racist/aids comment before boarding her flight to Africa. By the time she got there the entire Twitter World were gazing at her stupidity and some being very nasty and she lost her job. She says she wrote it ironically, and you can actually see that. It was poorly put together - this is the thing with 140 characters - and she probably shouldn't have bothered, but she certainly didn't deserve the backlash, especially on such a large scale.
Here is a little clip of his his recent Ted Talk which is the same subject.
He spoke about a few other things, including my most favourite of his stories, Frank. Which was made into a movie with Maggie Gyllenhaul and Michael Fassbender. When Ronson was younger he joined a band, even though he could barely play the keyboard. Frank was the lead singer, and not his real name and he wore a plastic head on stage and round and about. It was a cult band, and the most fascinating story. So I loved hearing little tidbits about that.
Ronson himself is a fascinating guy, quirky and anxious, but a regular dude you could have a beer with. I loved being in his presence. Safran was the perfect companion/interview. They held us, the audience, in the palm of their hands.