Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Right Sort of Madness

At this point in The Psychopath Test, Jon Ronson is questioned why he is pursuing this project and, as a result, he begins to question himself as well. The uncertainty Ronson feels originates from a conversation with his friend Adam Curtis. In this conversation, Curtis begins to criticize Ronson’s work; saying that all Ronson is doing is weaving fragments of stories together into a single story. In fact, that is what all journalists do in Curtis’s mind; they wait for the ‘gems’ which turn out to be the ‘madness.’ In response to this, Ronson wonders if some journalists go about the interviewing process in the opposite way, through the use of personally created systems that identify the best interviewees. It is through his research of this question he learns about Charlotte Scott.  In her job as a guest booker for television programs such as, Jerry Springer, Trisha, and Jeremy Kyle, she had to learn how to distance herself from the sadness in the lives of potential interviewees for the show. Throughout her time working at these shows, Charlotte also devised a system in which she would look at the medical history of possible interviewees to determine whether or not they would make good shows. She would choose people who were only slightly depressed, on a drug like Prozac, to ensure that they weren’t mad enough to kill themselves or others or not mad enough and would be boring on the show. Despite her system though, she tells Ronson of a time where it failed and almost ended up with the death of a man. The only thing Ronson takes from his conversation with Charlotte is that he hasn’t done anything as bad she has.
                Ronson’s interview with Al Dunlap was very interesting to me. The ease with which ese Dunlap fired people and the enjoyment he got out of it was disturbing though. He had no emotional attachment to the fact that firing so many people was destroying the lives of those people; especially in the case of Shubuta, Mississippi, where the entire Sunbeam plant was shut down, systematically ‘killing’ the town. With this in mind, I was not surprised that he possessed many of the qualities of a psychopath from Bob Hare’s Psychopath Checklist. Then, later on in the book, I was very intrigued by Ronson’s interview with Charlotte Scott. I had no idea that people with her type of job sorted out ‘good interviewees’ in that way. It’s very interesting to me that something as simple as the type of medication a person takes could affect the way they would react to a show like Jerry Springer. However, I am glad that it worked effectively so that very few people were negatively affected by their experience on the shows.  However, it did surprise me that the only thing Ronson took away from his interview with Charlotte was that at least he hadn’t done anything as bad as what she had. I’m not sure if I agree with this statement entirely. Yes, he didn’t publicly ‘humiliate’ the people he interviews, yet he did publish an entire book about the psychopaths he interviewed, for the general public to read. How is that not similar to what Charlotte did?

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