Friday, August 19, 2005

THEM: Adventures with Extremists

While on vacation I read THEM: Adventures with Extremists by Jon Ronson. I picked it up while looking for another book in the same section at the library, and it wasn’t until I was several dozen pages into it that I realized I had seen most of the content on television under the guise of Ronson’s documentary “Secret Rulers of the World”, which he did for Channel 4. Trio (TV), before my DirectTV dropped them, used to show all sorts of weird shows you couldn’t find anywhere else, and this was one of them – so as I read the book, I was actually having flashbacks to Ronson being tailed by the Bilderberg Group and the Bohemian Grove ceremony he was detailing. If you get a choice (between the series or the book), watch the series – it follows the book almost exactly and some of the visuals can’t be captured adequately in words.

Ronson is more of a humorist than anything else, and this makes the book, for all its content about fringe groups, self-proclaimed messiahs, the New World Order, and Satanic conspiracies, very light reading. He does a deft job of capturing the humanity of the people he interviews and in many cases you find yourself liking them, or at least liking their likeability despite their paranoia, racism and outright insanity. It takes a deft pen to apply that insight into people with whom Ronson himself generally does not feel comfortable.

Two of the things I learned while reading Them:

1. Extremist humor just isn’t that funny:

“Omar paused. ‘You know,’ he said, ‘the Koran even tells me which direction I must break wind in.’
There was a short silence.
‘And which direction do you break wind in?’ I asked.
‘The direction of the nonbeliever!’ Omar said.
‘Ha ha ha! The direction of the nonbeliever!’ Omar laughed heartily for some time and slapped me on the back.” (31).
2. KKK members now primarily wear cotton robes because silk robes have to go to the dry cleaners where minority drycleaners have a habit of losing them. There are several pages in Them where KKK members actually exchange fashion and washing tips (196-97).

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