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Review: Jon Ronson's Unsettling Account of Porn Star August Ames' Suicide

By Dustin Rowles | Books | January 16, 2019 |

By Dustin Rowles | Books | January 16, 2019 |


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This month over on Audible, subscribers have free access to the phenomenal audiobook The Last Days of August from Jon Ronson, the Welsh journalist whose The Men Who Stare at Goats was turned into a (mediocre) film. He is probably best known, however, for his 2015 book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, which is about online bullying and how Internet pile-ons have had disastrous consequences for the victims over the years (the account of Justine Sacco, whose life was ruined by an AIDs joke, is eye-opening).

The Last Days of August, which is about the suicide of porn star August Ames, begins in familiar territory for Ronson (who also wrote The Butterfly Effect, about how the Internet has affected the porn industry). On December 5, 2017, 23-year-old Ames hung herself after receiving backlash on Twitter for saying that she didn’t want a gay man as her scene partner.

Social media erupted, and though Ames — who is bisexual — denied she was homophobic, many of her friends and co-workers in the porn community not only did not come to her defense but in some cases, joined the pile-on. Two days after the tweet, Ames killed herself.

Ronson’s audiobook would thus seem to be another account of the dangers of social media and online bullying, but The Last Days of August quickly takes a detour and begins exploring other motives for her suicide, and even investigates the possibility that she was murdered. It is not, however, a “true crime” book, and Ronson is quick to note that, but it invariably follows many of the same beats we’ve come to expect from true-crime podcasts — investigating leads, exploring other possibilities, dropping bombshells, etc.

The main focus is on Ames’ husband, Kevin Moore, a porn producer twice her age who has an unsettling history of romantic relationships — a previous long-time girlfriend also committed suicide and an ex-wife was institutionalized after her relationship with Moore deteriorated. Moore is front and center after Ames’ suicide, almost too quick to blame it on bullying and certain people in the industry. He even points to a specific tweet, in which an online bully tells Ames to swallow a cyanide pill. However, it feels like he’s trying to take the attention off himself and scapegoat Twitter for Ames’ death.

It’s compelling stuff, but ultimately it’s also where a reader who has exhibited sympathy for some of the individuals in So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed might feel uncomfortable. Why? Because Ronson spends the bulk of The Last Days of August trying to determine if Ames’ husband Kevin Moore — rather than the bullying — was either responsible for Ames’ suicide or if he outright murdered her. The audiobook paints Moore as a fairly sketchy dude — a controlling, toxic loner who alienates his romantic partners from other people. In this particular instance, Ames had been seeing someone else and discussing the possibility of divorcing Moore, giving Moore an ostensible motive. That, on top of everything else, may leave listeners believing that Moore definitely played a role in Ames’ death, especially as Ronson endeavors to poke holes in Moore’s alibi on the night of Ames’ death.

(SPOILERS)

But here’s where the entire endeavor, which makes for a compelling audiobook, also left me feeling a little uncomfortable (and the reason why I have to include a Spoilers tag): By the end of the audiobook, all the leads that Ronson was following ultimately fizzle out. Moore still comes off like a controlling asshole, but it’s clear that he is not directly responsible for Ames’ suicide, that there were other factors in his ex-girlfriend’s suicide and his other ex-wife’s institutionalization, and that the social-media bullying and Ames’ history of mental illness were major factors, although Moore’s aloofness in Ames’ last days certainly didn’t help. By the last half hour, it almost feels as though Ronson has stirred up an unwarranted mob against Moore, not for being responsible for Ames’ death, but for being an asshole. I’m not sure how I feel about that, since there are obviously several degrees of separation between “run of the mill asshole husband” and “murderer.” Moreover, as someone who works online, I know how a headline can shape a story, and the implied headline in much of The Last Days of August is “Did Kevin Moore kill his wife?” I suspect that, for many listeners, their minds will be made up before the evidence disproves them.

(END SPOILERS)

That aside, it’s a fascinating book. I don’t know anything about the porn industry, but Ronson digs into the competitiveness, the toxicity, and some of the dangers posed during sex scenes (a guy who goes by the nickname “War Machine” plays a central role, and he has that nickname for a reason). It is an emotionally fraught industry — and Ronson gets into that — but it wasn’t the sole factor in Ames’ suicide. Ronson rightfully concludes that her suicide — like most others — is not because of one thing. However, that one thing can often push a person predisposed to suicide over the edge. Ultimately, I think that’s what happened to August Ames. She was mentally ill. She was in an unhappy marriage. Her industry turned on her. The tweets, on top of everything else, pushed her over the edge.



Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.


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