Thursday 8 October 2009

Jon Ronson at TAM London

When the gnome-like figure of Jon Ronson* mounted the Mermaid stage I was pleasantly surprised to find that the impression of flabbergasted diffidence given by his media appearances seems to be his natural persona. My previous knowledge of him derives from two programmes: a BBC Radio 4 documentary about Robbie Williams attending a UFO convention to speak to alien abductees, and a Channel 4 film in the recent Revelations series, about the Alpha Course.

I'm currently reading his book, Them - Adventures with Extremists, and finding it compulsive. Ronson has a down-to-earth narrative style that's hard to put down.

He began his presentation with a trailer for the film The Men Who Stare at Goats, based on his book of the same name, though he said he had nothing to do with the making of the film. It's about the US military's psychic spying programme, which bizarrely included attempts to kill with the power of the mind. Hence the goats, which were used as target practice. Ronson showed a few other clips from the film as he outlined the absurdity of it all.

I vaguely remember a BBC Horizon programme from decades ago on this subject, and I remember my amazement watching it. Surely, I thought, the US military weren't really doing this? The TV programme itself seemed to remain neutral on the veracity of the claims, which included "remote viewing", but to me the whole thing appeared completely crackpot.

Ronson also showed a clip verifying his dubious distinction of having a weapon named after him. The "Ronsonator" is a fiendish device, as we saw during demonstrations of similar weapons, which could perhaps be described as the knuckle-dusters from Hell:

During the Q & A Ronson answered questions about his film on the Alpha Course, updated us on the whereabouts of one of the subjects of Them, and declined to talk about his current project, which is about Scientology, other than to say that his relations with the Scientologists had so far been cordial. Fascinating stuff.
*Jon Ronson's website froze my browser (Firefox Mac) - you have been warned.