In Lost at Sea, investigative reporter and documentarian Jon Ronson seeks out the most bizarre and outrageous elements of human endeavor, inserts himself into the scene, and brings the story back to his readers in straightforward prose that is at once genuine and deliciously satirical. The previously published essays in Lost at Sea come from a decade of Ronson's gonzo immersions into stories about the weirder side of human nature and the stranger things we are willing to believe.
The book opens with an interview with Violent J and Shaggy 2 Dope, the rappers who comprise Insane Clown Posse. For those of us unfamiliar with the duo, Ronson lays the groundwork: For twenty years, Insane Clown Posse have written and performed incredibly offensive lyrics filled with aggression and misogyny that has been known to incite their fans, the jugggalos, to violent acts. Insane Clown Posse has, in fact, been banned from performing in certain cities for this very reason. Now, they've come out to the juggalos as believers. "Insane Clown Posse have this entire time secretly been evangelical spiritualists. They've only been pretending to be burtal and sadistic to trick their fans into believing in God."
Ronson maintains an undercurrent of satirical disbelief throughout his interview which makes the article jaw-dropping and hilarious. At the same time, he presses his subjects about their beliefs and their reasons for keeping them under wraps for what seems an inordinate amount of time. In fact, Ronson's tenacity in pressing his subjects with hard questions about frequently bizarre behavior and beliefs is what makes Lost at Sea so engaging. He doesn't shy away from the juicy center of the story.
And his subjects are bizarre. He interviews robots purported by their creators to be on the brink of sentience; a group of parents whose ADHD kids are thought to be "Indigo Children," super-evolved beings with heightened spiritual senses and psychic abilities; a preacher whose "Alpha Course" is designed to transform agnostics into speaking-in-tongues believers; and the residents of North Pole, Alaska, a town where 365 days of Christmas spirit wasn't enough to prevent a group of middle school boys from planning a Columbine-like massacre - or was it too much?
It's the combination of extraordinary experiences with Ronson's perfectly subtle wit however that makes each piece in this collection a gem. In 2008, he joined pop star Robbie Williams, who became suddenly reclusive and interested in extraterrestrial life, in Laughlin, Nevada to attend a UFO Conference whose slogan is Educating the World One Person at a time, "which makes it sound as if there won't be many people attending." Ronson travels with Williams and his friends in a private plane rented by Williams for the day.
"Welcome to your plane," [the flight attendant] said to us. "I just want to tell you that Snoop Dogg uses this plane a lot. What I'm saying is," she added in a lower voice, "you can do anything."
We all looked at each other. We're middle-aged now. None of us could really imagine what "anything" might mean anymore.
"Are we allowed to stand up as the plane lands?" asked Brandon.
While the thread of Ronson's wry wit runs through most of the book, a couple of the pieces contained herein are sad as they explore some of the more desperate and forlorn aspects of humanity as we reach for answers and grapple with difficulties. Each piece is affecting in its own way, and each is an adventure far from the beaten path.