Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Jon Ronson and Adam Curtis on the culture wars: ‘How has this happened? Where is the escape hatch?’

by The Guardian

As Ronson’s BBC podcast Things Fell Apart begins, the documentary-makers and old friends discuss conspiracy theories, the problem of ‘activist journalists’ and what happened to Ceaușescu’s socks.

Jon Ronson and Adam Curtis became friends in the late 1990s, having bonded over their shared interests in power, society and the stories we tell about ourselves. Curtis, 66, is a Bafta-winning documentary film-maker whose credits include The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear and HyperNormalisation. His most recent six-part series, Can’t Get You Out of My Head, draws on the history of psychology and politics to show how we got to where we are today. Ronson, 54, is a US-based Welsh writer and journalist whose books include 2015’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, about social media brutality and the history of public shaming. In recent years, Ronson has turned to podcasting, investigating the porn industry in The Butterfly Effect and its follow-up The Last Days of August.

His forthcoming BBC podcast, Things Fell Apart, is about the roots of the culture wars and the ways the present is echoed in the past. Over eight episodes, he talks to individuals caught up in ideological conflicts, conspiracy theories and moral panics. These include Alice Moore, the wife of a fundamentalist minister and unexpected culture war instigator who campaigned to remove textbooks containing liberal material from schools, and Kelly Michaels, a daycare worker and victim of the “satanic panic” who was wrongfully imprisoned in 1988 by a New Jersey court for child abuse (the verdict was overturned in 1993).

We are on: Curtis is talking from his office in London while Ronson is at home in New York. By way of preparation before their chat, Curtis has binged on Ronson’s new series. No sooner are cameras switched on than the reminiscences begin.


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