I’m a big fan of Jon Ronson, having read several of his books and his two previous podcasts: The Butterfly Effect and The Last Days of August, both of which were brilliant. He also did a fabulous Grounded with Louis Theroux, the first in fact.
So this new outing from BBC Radio 4 had all the credentials for greatness.
It’s essentially an exploration of what he calls Culture Wars, but it’s not massively clear who the ‘wars’ are between or what he means by this.
The first three episodes suggest he has a pathological hatred of American Christian Fundamentalists who take on Femisists, the Pro Choice Movement (episode one)and the Liberal Left who used West Virginian schools as a test bed for new school text books in the 70’s (episode two).
By episode three he’s on to the AIDS epidemic and how, again, Christian Fundamentalists added homophobia to their delightful list of hobbies.
But then the themes start to wander and crumble a little. Episode four is about satanists and five, by which point I was losing interest, is about freedom of speech at Stamford University around about the time of the birth of the internet, built around some huge fall out over a Jewish Scottish joke (that isn’t even funny).
The trouble with this series is threefold:
- The stories aren’t much cop
- The premise is, for me, a little unclear and few of these episodes really do feel like proper wars, just spats
- The idea (at least in terms of cultural exploration) was done much better, and far more engagingly and humorously by Willa Paskin in Decoder Ring. Her exploration of Unicorn Poo, The Mullet and other equally absurd cultural phenomena were just as well researched but were also genuinely fun and interesting.
I’m feeling Ronson has maybe hit a bit of a dry stretch in his career and this podcast is amongst his weakest ever work. At times turgid and often uncertain as to the overall point he is trying to make.
It’s all just a bit dull, frankly.