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Last Days of August Ames Jon Ronson Podcast Audible
Illustration Marianne Wilson

The podcast exploring the tragic suicide of porn A-lister August Ames

Jon Ronson and Lina Misitzis discuss their new series The Last Days of August, which probes the porn star’s death

When Jon Ronson and Lina Misitzis made the 2018 podcast The Butterfly Effect, an exploration of the knock-on effect that free porn had on the industry, they made such good relationships with adult movie makers that they would get phone calls on their birthdays. Fast forward to the making of their latest podcast, Last Days of August, and Jon and Lina are being berated by their interviewees at multiple points.

It speaks to the tensions in the industry over the death of August Ames, and the three month period surrounding her death which saw four other porn actresses pass away for a whole host of reasons. While making Last Days of August, which explores Ames’s death, Ronson had to hang up the phone on Lisa Ann, one of his interviewees, who said that there would be more deaths as a result of the podcast. He didn’t take it personally. “I think it's because most journalists who enter the porn industry have an agenda,” he explains. He and Misitzis nevertheless agonised to make sure they produced a fair reflection of a dark chapter in the industry.

This podcast is a fitting tribute to the memory of the young actor. She died by suicide at the beginning of December 2017, shortly after facing widespread criticism online for saying she wouldn’t shoot scenes with male crossover stars that do gay porn. Her boyfriend Kevin said it was the online bullying that killed her, while industry rumours accuse him of being controlling, and another male co-star of on-camera sexual abuse. Cutting through the he-said-she-said, Last Days of August talks to her friends, family and colleagues to understand her mindset in the run-up to her death.

Do you think that some of the suspicions surrounding the Last Days of August podcast arose from the fact that these deaths have already caused a rift in the industry?

Jon Ronson: Well, most journalists want to damn the industry with a pre-existing set of ideological criteria. Remember, it's only a couple of years ago that real controversial show Hot Girls Wanted was on, which took seedy aspects of the industry and made it seem like it was the entire industry. She’d experienced that so many times – I think that, maybe, she just thought Jon and Lina are gonna do that again. Of course, that was never what we wanted to do. We're only interested in telling accurate, nuanced feeling stories. One thing we discovered though is that porn is a tribal business. I think that created annoyance as well. She wanted us to concentrate on Derek Hay, a business enemy. It'd be good if people in the industry tried to talk to each other a little bit. I think that's probably something that could be improved among the community.

What is it that keeps drawing you back to the porn industry?

Jon Ronson: There's so much sweetness about the industry. The only other experience I've had on a porn set other than The Butterfly Effect was when I briefly visited a porn set while working on You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. The thing that also makes me laugh about that memory is that people kept coming up to me to ask me if I was okay and didn’t feel too intimidated. I was wearing a tweed jacket, with my little owl-like glasses, and it made me realise – you know you're getting old when because people come up to you and gently rub your back on a porn set to make sure you're okay.

It was sweet. My overriding memory was just this kind of gentleness and people supporting each other. It was a shock when we saw the sadder side of the industry.

“We as a society have not solved #MeToo when it comes to any other industry, so I just can’t imagine solving it within the porn community is going to be at the forefront of any mainstream media’s coverage” – Lina Misitzis

How did this project come together?

Lina Misitzis: I had basically relocated to Los Angeles. I was as embedded as I could have possibly been. We had a completely different plan for what this show was going to be.

Jon Ronson: It was going to be a story about Alex Jones, and then August died.

Lina Misitzis: Right, so when August killed herself the initial story was all about how she had done it because of social media shaming, which combined the last book Jon had written (So You've Been Publicly Shamed) and the last podcast Jon had made (The Butterfly Effect). At first it was just going to be an article in The Guardian, and then more and more and more kept happening until eventually, it became obvious that it was just a long form audio story.

Having looked into this case now, obviously, it combines a lot of the online discourse around mental health and the #MeToo movement. Yet, this hasn’t had a lasting impact on mainstream dialogue for how we protect porn actors.

Jon Ronson: Right, there’s a hypocrisy because people don’t want to think about the lives of porn actresses but they’ll still watch porn. There’s this moment in The Butterfly Effect where this woman Dakota said she watches a lot of porn and I said ‘did you ever learn their names?’ and she said: ‘No I’ve never learned their names because when you kill a deer you don't name it because then you can't eat it’.

Lina Misitzis: The Butterfly Effect tackled pirating, which hasn’t been solved when it comes to films and music, things that everyone likes to talk about. So, they're not gonna solve it when it comes to porn. I think the same is kind of true of #MeToo. We as a society have not solved #MeToo when it comes to any other industry, so I just can’t imagine solving it within the porn community is going to be at the forefront of any mainstream media’s coverage.

“There’s a hypocrisy because people don’t want to think about the lives of porn actresses but they’ll still watch porn” – Jon Ronson

You’ve dealt with all of this very sensitively, but there’s a tension between raising awareness of the issues in the porn community as they should be, and the risk of stigmatising an already maligned group of people. How has that played into how you approached this project?

Jon Ronson: Well when I'm starting out on a story, one of my first thoughts is ‘what’s the worst version of this story?’ And then when you identify the pitfalls you find ways to avoid them. That was at the forefront of our minds throughout the entire year, to the extent that I would wake up in the middle of the night thinking about it: we can't be stigmatising the industry.

What is it that you’ve taken away, and what is it that you want listeners to take away from this podcast?

Jon Ronson: We should start listening to each other instead of isolating ourselves away from each other. That’s the biggest message. Mental health gets a lot better when people listen to each other.

Lina Misitzis: What was so convenient about the first narrative that came out right after August died was that bad guys were immediately created and emerged. My hope for anyone who listens to the story as a whole, as was intended, is that they walk away without thinking that there’s any villains or angels.