Acclaimed writer and documentary maker Jon Ronson has spent his life meeting extraordinary people and exploring curious events. In his RSA Commencement address he shares some of the life lessons he’s learned along the way.
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Comedian Marc Maron is tackling the most complex philosophical question of our day - WTF? He’ll get to the bottom of it with help from comedian friends, celebrity guests and the voices in his own head. You loved him on Morning Sedition. You kinda liked him on The Marc Maron Show. You tolerated him on Break Room Live. Now, embrace him on a show from which he cannot be fired - WTF with Marc Maron.
Author and journalist Jon Ronson provided Marc with a lot of conversation points through his books, including Them: Adventures with Extremists, The Men Who Stare At Goats and The Psychopath Test. Jon and Marc mine that material to discuss conspiracy theorists, hoarders and victims of public shaming.
Kurt Vonnegut is a serious writer who holds a special place in the hearts of teenagers. Jon Ronson got hooked on Vonnegut when he was 15. For his long train rides from Cardiff, Wales, to look at colleges, Ronson packed a bag with Vonnegut’s novels, including Slaughterhouse Five. “It was like I was on the cusp of a new life,” he remembers. “I was about to go out into the world and Vonnegut was my companion.”
Ronson grew up to write journalism that creatively investigates weirdness of various flavors — from alien abductions to neo-Nazi gatherings. His bestseller The Men Who Stare at Goats (made into a movie with George Clooney) is about US military programs that tried to exploit paranormal powers. Vonnegut “made me very much want to be a writer,” Ronson says. At the same time, ”because he puts himself in his books and he always portrays himself as quite miserable, I thought ‘God, I don’t want to be a writer if that’s your life, all alone in a room, chain-smoking.’”
“When I look back on like everything I’ve written time and again it’s very Vonnegut-ish. Because every good story that I write is about people trying to do good in a difficult, crazy, absurd world.”
The Psychopath Test — Recently we heard about this test that could determine if someone was a psychopath. So, naturally, our staff decided to take it. This week we hear the results. Plus Jon Ronson asks the question: is this man a psychopath?
Ira explains that when the radio staff decided to take a test that reveals who is a psychopath, very quickly everyone came to believe that the highest score would go to either Robyn, Jane, or him. (6 minutes)
ACT ONE. UNDERACHIEVEMENT TEST.
NPR Science Correspondent Alix Spiegel tells the story of Robert Dixon, who’s in a maximum security prison in Vacaville California and is unlikely to ever get parole because of his score on the psychopath test. The test also is called "the checklist" or, more formally, the PCL-R, which stands for "Psychopathy Check List—Revised." Alix tells the story of its creation and reports that the man who created the test, Bob Hare, is concerned at how it’s being used today in the criminal justice system. A version of this story aired on NPR’s All Things Considered. (28 minutes)
ACT TWO. KING OF THE FOREST.
Jon Ronson investigates whether corporate leaders can, in fact, be psychopaths by visiting a former Sunbeam CEO named Al Dunlap. This is an excerpt from Ronson’s book, The Psychopath Test. (15 minutes)
Song: "If I Were King of the Forest", Wizard of Oz Soundtrack
ACT THREE. THE RESULTS ARE IN.
Ira and the radio show staff get their results on the psychopath test from Dr. David Bernstein, of Forensic Consultants, LLC., who administered the test to them. (6 minutes)
Song: "If I Only Had the Nerve", Wizard of Oz Soundtrack
Jon Ronson talks to Denis Fillion, who was behind one of the first major internet hoaxes.
Denis used to post threads and make small talk on a technical forum called Anandtech. Irritated by the misogyny he found on the site, he invented a female character to join in the chat. Soon he found himself flirting with his own character and weaving a tale so believable that the character took on an air of reality, even for him. As the relationship deepened, Denis was forced to take drastic action to get out of his own hoax.
With additional contributions from comedian Josie Long and Charlie Brooker.
Journalist Jon Ronson investigates the extraordinary story of Mary Turner Thompson, who experienced the worst internet date ever which lasted seven years and was to cause the total devastation of her life.
Edinburgh-based Mary met and married a man who told her he was a CIA agent. Jon visits her in Scotland and hears the incredible twisting and turning love story of Will and Mary. Will carried a gun and had to dash off to Israel at a moment’s notice; Mary was left holding the baby, never knowing when he would come back, and was unable to contact him. She even feared a terrorist attack on her home. But the most bizarre twist was still to come.
Writer and documentary maker Jon Ronson returns for another series of fascinating stories shedding light on the human condition.
Jon Ronson talks to comedian Josie Long who found herself in a situation where she had to make a choice on whether to spy on someone’s life… did morality step in? Writer Danny Wallace recalls the days when a spy was sent to his home to spy on his father, a leading expert on East German literature.
Johnny Howorth, rookie documentary maker, was also in a situation where he was asked by US Marshals to spy on the couple Ed and Elaine Brown who were convicted of tax crimes. As he naively got more deeply involved, he feared another Wako and had to make a difficult decision… John Symonds, a so-called ‘romeo spy’ also tells his sometimes shocking story.
Producers: Laura Parfitt and Simon Jacobs An Unique production for BBC Radio 4.
Science chat with physicist Brian Cox and comedian Robin Ince. This week they are joined by author and documentary maker Jon Ronson and Seth Shostak from the SETI Institute in California, to discuss science conspiracy theories, UFOs and the search for ET.