The Last Days Of August, Reviewed

Plus: Theranos legal bill troubles!

There’s little crime to be found in The Last Days Of August, but that’s OK. After a day on the road with two barrels full of people, and two days with a murderous misogynist, I wasn’t sure if I was bummed or relieved when host Jon Ronson said, early in the second episode, that the podcast about the suicide of adult actor August Ames had no intention of building false suspense, and that it “wasn’t a murder mystery.”

It is, however, a mystery, and one worthy of unraveling. Ames killed herself under odd circumstances, a day after a Twitter storm erupted over her remarks on the social platform about why she prefers not to work with male actors who have done sex scenes with other men. Her husband (his name is Kevin Moore) -- who was expertly interviewed by Ronson and producer Lina Misitzis on multiple occasions -- comes across as so unreliable a narrator that you’d be forgiven if, as you listen to the show, you forgot Ronson’s warning and thought “are we suuuure he didn’t do it?”

Ronson says that he was initially attracted to the case because it seemed like it was a pure case of social media-driven suicide, but that once he started asking questions, he realized that it was much more. I think that’s probably true of every suicide that’s attributed to online bullying (etc.) -- in and of itself, though harassment via social media is absolutely vile, in my opinion as someone with no mental health creds but a lot of online ones, there are other factors that contribute to a person’s decision to take their own life.

Ronson and Misitzis gained remarkable access to members of the typically insular porn community, likely because of their previous (non true crime) pod The Butterfly Effect, which also covers the adult industry. They’re both masterful interviewers (Ronson’s gentle approach should definitely be taught in j-schools) who elicited remarkable candor from their subjects. The conversation that has stayed with me the longest is the one Ronson had with Lisa Ann (one that got so heated that people contacted him via Twitter to ask about the relationship). Even if you’ve never seen a porn, you likely recognize Lisa Ann -- she’s the actor who played a parody version of Sarah Palin in six films during that politician’s ascendancy. (Oh, the good old days.) Something Ronson needed to realize, Lisa Ann said, is that “75 percent of the people in this industry could commit suicide at any time,” and that they are all “deeply broken.”

That hit me like a slap in the face. As a whatever-wave feminist, I’m supposed to be a porn fan, I think (?), applauding women who boldly take charge of their sexuality and use it for profit. How do we rectify this and the repeated statements from people in the actual game who say that its female participants are suffering, both physically and emotionally? That takes us back to August Ames, who says that she longed for a career in porn and was living her dreams at the time of her death.

According to Lisa Ann, at least five other women in the industry also died of suicide or overdoses around the time August did (“and why aren’t you investigating them,” she asks Ronson, a question familiar to every crime reporter). Perhaps it’s a chicken-and-egg thing, and the people who are fearless enough to bust through boundaries to appear in porn are equally mercurial when it comes to emotional matters. Perhaps the business takes edge cases and breaks them. Or perhaps the issue is more prosaic -- for example, a 2018 New York Post report attributed the rise in deaths to economic insecurity. In the end, The Last Days Of August doesn’t answer that question, but if offers a compassionate and sweet (but never saccharine) portrait of a woman who, for whatever reason, found the challenges presented to her impossible to survive. -- EB

If someone you know exhibits warning signs of suicide: do not leave the person alone; remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt; and call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) or take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional.

Lawyers for Elizabeth Holmes say that they haven’t been paid for work on a civil suit against the Theranos founder. Three lawyers with international firm Cooley LLP said in court papers filed on September 30 (and first reported by the Merc) that Holmes hasn’t paid her bills from them in over a year, and that “given Ms. Holmes’s current financial situation, Cooley has no expectation that Ms. Holmes will ever pay it for its services as her counsel.” Because of that fear, the firm is asking that they be released by the courts from role as defense for Holmes.

This isn’t regarding Holmes’s criminal case, which, as you know, Best Evidence will cover live if we get 2000 paid subscriptions by August of 2020 (when that trial will begin). This is a civil case filed in U.S. District Court in Phoenix by consumers who allege that Holmes, Theranos and Walgreens collaborated in a “massive fraud” and “medically battered them by taking blood draws under ‘false pretenses,’” The Washington Post reports. It’s unclear how much Holmes owes the attorneys in the Arizona case, and a call to her criminal attorneys to see if she was in arrears was not responded to as of send time. -- EB

What I’m reading from my mom’s house in New Whiteland, Indiana:

  • “LAPD/FBI Homicide Library Opens in Westchester.” [City News Service] The library will contain “materials involving solved -- and unsolved -- crimes and will be “available for detectives investigating cold cases.” The 7,300-square foot structure has room for 15,000 murder cases, “and will provide an opportunity for researchers to study the methodology involved in past murder investigations and help in developing methodology for future murder investigations.”

  • Kim Kardashian pushes for clemency for ‘Making a Murderer’ subject Brendan Dassey.” [New York Post] In a series of tweets, the prison reform advocate has added her voice to those urging Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers to consider granting Dassey clemency.

  • A sexual assault, a new garden and the fight at Stanford over Chanel Miller’s voice.” [LA Times] Following Miller’s sexual assault on the Stanford campus, administrators agreed to to transform the spot where she was attacked by Brock Turner into a garden, complete with a plaque etched with words from her victim impact statement. Two years later, the garden has been completed but Miller has withdrawn from the project, after the school repeatedly rejected her proposed verbiage for the plaque.

Tuesday on Best Evidence: I’m staying put at my mom’s this week, which is good because the cold I contracted on my drive out here (as I said to Sarah via Slack, it’s so weird that I got sick after touching surfaces in gas station bathrooms across the country) still needs some time to leave me. So expect normal programming the rest of this week and Monday 10/14, after which paid subscribers will get four more days of on-demand podcast reviews.

What is this thing? This should help.

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