The International Writers Magazine: Book review

Them by Jon Ronson
Paperback 250 pages
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 0330375466
Dan Schneider

magine writing a whole book making fun of retards or fat people. Yes, there are some natural chuckles to be mined, but imagine Jay Leno or David Letterman pointing his cameras into his audience, finding a Downs Syndrome kid, and then saying, ‘Look, there’s a Downs Syndrome kid!’

The first time they’d do it perhaps half of the audience would laugh and applaud, waiting for that Vaudevillean ‘bada-boom’ punchline. But, after the chirping of crickets faded, and he tried it a second or third time, no one would be even snickering.

This is the dilemma with Ronson’s book. And no, I’m not one of those twits who think that 9/11 was an event on par with the Civil War, D-Day, the moon landing, nor even the assassinations of JFK, RFK, and MLK. We live in remarkably small times, led by incredibly shortsighted leaders like George W. Bush and Tony Blair, but even with that backdrop, the loonies that Ronso sidles up to in his book are simply not that interesting. Yes, there is the Internet lunatic David Icke (who, incidentally, harassed and lost to me via email a few years ago after I debunked a number of beliefs in extraterrestrials in my piece on the JFK and UFO conspiracies, and any number of paranoiacs, racists, and wing nuts….but, so? Again, laughing at a racist or a retard only has a short shelf life, and five years down the line this book’s expiration date is long passed.

Yes, there are some mild chuckles when Ronson meets a would be jihadist from Northern London slums, named Oma Bakri Mohammed (later tied to 9/11, Al Quaida, and Osama bin Laden), and even more with nouveau Klansman Thomas Robb- who eschews white sheets and the use of the term ‘nigger’, but there is nothing humorous about film director Tony Kaye and his obsession over his own mediocre PC film from the late 1990s, American History X. Icke, who believes that ETs run the world- and the ETs are not the sort from Spielberg’s films, nor even the little gray alien rapists, but twelve foot tall reptilians who are pure evil, is a hoot, and perhaps the only character in the book who shows any intellect, as he deftly outmaneuvers smug PC Elitist professors who try to outwit him in debates. Yet, even his act grows stale after a few pages. There simply isn’t enough fodder to sustain this small 328 page book with enough laughs.

Thus, Ronson - a Jew - does attempt some seriousness, trying to track down the infamous Bilderberg Group- a group allied in many paranoid mindsets with the Illuminati of banker Jews who control the world. Yes, I’m familiar with the fringe mindsets out there. When you run a website as popular as Cosmoetica you have nochoice but to draw any number of loonies into your orbit. And the Bilderberg group and the Illuminati are at the center of almost all these fringe groups’ mindsets- be they racists, extraterrestrialists, or jihadists. Even more disquieting, are the supposedly sane opponents of these extremists, like a group in Vancouver, Canada, that believes Icke is really using code words when he says ‘reptilians’. They hear ‘Jews’.

Ronson seemingly wants to show that there is not much of a difference between the extremist and the dull ‘average man’. Yet, he fails, because the average man lets life go by, barely engaging it, living life in a perpetual stupor. While the extremists do little with their lives, and are off the wall, at least they are never stupefied. They are engaged with the cosmos, no matter how warped a view they have on it. Another flaw is that Ronson seems to stage many of the events in his book, lying to get into certain events, and melodramaticizing innately dull scenes, as well as merely leaving things stated that need some further comment upon. Again, simply showing a Downs child is not funny, no matter how you smirk while presenting it.

Yet, in a sense, the whole book is an exercise in laziness. Ronson would have been far more prescient had he detailed true conspiracies- price fixers in supposedly free markets, the scum class of capitalists that run criminal corporations like Enron, AT&T, Worldcom, and Wal-Mart. To ‘expose’ Klansmen and conspiracists who believe in that 19th Century Russian hoax, The Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion, is simply too easy, even if it can lead to comic gems like this, about the Klansman Robb: ‘He is a friendly and cheerful man, with an amiable demeanor. Had he not been the grand wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, I’d have described him as having the humorous demeanor of a Manhattan nebbish. The door was open for me, many times, to say to him, ‘Oh, Thom! You’re such a nebbish!’ But that would have been a mistake. Still, it was surprising to find myself in a situation where I was toning down my Jewish character traits so as not to alienate a Ku Klux Klan leader who reminded me of Woody Allen.’

Yes, Ronson is about as stylish with words as I am with haberdashery, but a little more depth and a little less self-conscious striving for grotesques would have gone a long way, and perhaps still left a fizz of humor in this sadly outdated book. Then, again, this never sought to be a book of any depth, and it succeeded in that aim, and I paid only 99¢ for the book at a discounter, so the worth was probably equal to the price. Where are the price fixers when you really need them?--

© Dan Schnieder April 2006

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