There’s a good amount of bullshitting in The Last Days of August, despite Welsh journalist Jon Ronson’s best efforts to cut to the truth. Ronson is known for his investigative but extremely readable books So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed and The Psychopath Test. Last year saw him breaking into the podcast world with the Audible original series The Butterfly Effect, which explores how free porn streaming sites like PornHub have cut into the profits of the previously well-monied porn industry.
August feels like a sequel to Butterfly Effect due to Ronson’s continued attempts to objectively cover the lives of porn actors, humanize them, and this time, get at the true-crime-y story of August Ames, a porn actress who killed herself in December 2017. It also feels like he’s building on So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, his 2015 book about the history of modern online disgrace, because until Ronson starts digging, the popular theory surrounding Ames’ suicide is that she died in response to being dragged on Twitter after making homophobic comments.
Ronson delves into these comments, gradually revealing what was said, who @’d whom, and whether Ames even saw the most vicious tweets before she died. Ames’ widower Kevin Moore has some cockamamie reasoning for why he doesn’t think the tweets were homophobic (they were), but that’s not the real issue in August.
The real issue appears at the first episode’s end, when Ronson drops an interview with Ames’ friend and fellow porn actress Emma Hix. Hix says Moore had asked her to “hold a lot of things in” and not expose Ames’ “dirty little secrets.” And we’re off to the races! Except that Ronson opens the next episode with an attempt to contextualize the blood-chilling audio—deus ex machina-style—from his perspective at the end of the podcast’s investigation phase, 10 months in the future: “This will not turn out to be a murder mystery,” he says. I think that may be a big reason we all like Ronson so much—he’s got one hell of a story to tell us, but he doesn’t want to unfairly smear Moore as a murderer, in case you don’t finish all seven episodes.
The twists and turns of August exhausted me. Ronson runs back and forth between subjects like a reality show producer; Moore won’t let Ames hang out with her friends, Moore says Ames’ friends are pressuring her to do drugs, and so on. It feels like nothing solid ever comes out of the interviews. I can’t promise you’ll finish August feeling like a great veil has been yanked back from what Ames was thinking or what truly happened to her. But August is a fascinating show that manages something truly curious: It presents people from the porn industry quite nakedly, and you never even see them.
All seven episodes of The Last Days of August available via Audible.
If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, the Crisis Clinic of King County number is 206-461-3222. And for those outside of Seattle, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is at 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433) or 1-800-273-8255. You can also text “help” to 741-741.