Fodor mug.jpg
Image Source
Phoenix Jones/Ben Fodor
Jon Ronson profiled Phoenix Jones' for GQ earlier this year, and has now expanded that feature into an E-Book that


Jon Ronson, Author of Upcoming Phoenix Jones E-Book, Says Superhero is 'Genuinely Awesome' and 'Definitely Narcissistic'

Fodor mug.jpg
Image Source
Phoenix Jones/Ben Fodor
Jon Ronson profiled Phoenix Jones' for GQ earlier this year, and has now expanded that feature into an E-Book that portrays the self-proclaimed superhero as a total badass...and also a bit of an ass.

Ronson is a fine journalist, and best-selling author owing to his writing in The Men Who Stare at Goats, The Psychopath Test, and Them: Adventures With Extremists. He visited Seattle last winter to patrol Belltown with Jones, and observed him in action confronting crack dealers and posing for pictures with drunken fans.

If that sounds familiar, it's because I did just about the exact same thing for, "The (Alleged) Adventures of Phoenix Jones," a story featured on the cover of Seattle Weekly in April. Ronson recounted his own experience this past August in a GQ piece awesomely headlined, "It's a Bird. It's a Plane. It's...Some Dude?!"

I was impressed with Jones' charisma but skeptical about his motives and seemingly tall tales. Ronson was also impressed with Jones' charisma, especially in comparison to other costumed crusaders he interviewed in San Diego and New York. He wrote that Jones is "an awesome superhero," famous for "acts of anonymous heroism." Then again, Ronson also slyly poked fun at the absurdity of the situations he found himself in with Jones, and wondered aloud whether the masked man known also known as Ben Fodor is "delightfully naive or disturbingly naive."

Jon Ronson.jpg
Jon Ronson
The E-Book -- titled The Amazing Adventures of Phoenix Jones, And The Less Amazing Adventures of Some Other Real-Life Superheroes -- is being published by Riverhead Books and will be available November 22. It reads like a director's cut of the GQ feature, with some added scenes and more material focusing on the second-tier superheroes he encountered elsewhere in the U.S. I got my hands on an advance copy of the manuscript, then chatted with Ronson via Skype as he sipped a beer in his London apartment.

SW: How much time total did you spend with Phoenix Jones for both the GQ piece and the E-Book?

Ronson: It was four days, plus a Skype conversation. That was enough. It was kind of intense. He was fucking making me stay out all night with him. It's something I'm too old and scared for. I felt sort of slightly imprisoned. I'm like 'I want to go bed.' And it all started the minute I got off the plane. I wasn't even allowed to check into the bloody hotel.

There's one point in the book that really stands out for me. You arrive to find Jones in the hospital and overhear the ER doctor ask him why he lists a pediatrician as his primary physician. It's kind of a shock to everyone in the room that this brawny guy is just 22-years-old. How much do you think his youth factors into his, um, unusual behavior?

Certainly when I was that age, I felt a lot of more immortal than I feel now. I'd do all sorts back then, things I wouldn't dream of doing now. I wouldn't fight crime, but I certainly would do risky things, so it has to be more than that. There's a lot of other people in his world of that age, and he is massively more daring and charismatic and kind of delightful. There has to be something else that makes him so special. He's got a goofiness that others don't have. He's brave. The New York lot [of superheroes] are brave but kind of intimidating and not that charismatic. It's this mix of goofiness and charming-ness and bravery combined.

What about him does the public and media find so fascinating?

I think he's very unusual, especially having spent all this time with other superheroes, you realize he's completely unique, even within his world. The thing that interests me most about Phoenix, and the reason I wanted to do the story, is all the other superheroes -- including the New York lot -- were not particularly charismatic, not that interesting. Many of them would run shrieking from danger if they chanced upon it, which is very unlikely because they're patrolling downtown San Diego at night. But into this slightly crappy world comes a genuinely awesome, charismatic guy. I thought that was really funny.

And what does that do to the rest of them? They're insanely jealous and hostile and annoyed. I thought if I spent time with Phoenix and the others it would give me an insight to the nature of charisma. Why one of these people is so much more charismatic than the others. He's exceptional.

What was the most dangerous thing you saw him do?

It was definitely that moment toward the end. These guys (Belltown crack dealers) were coming toward us, saying 'If you don't leave we'll show you what the burner do,' which apparently means gun. They all ran toward us with their hands down their trousers. I had no reason to suspect they didn't have a gun.

And Phoenix said to his friends, 'Do we stand or do we leave? We stand, we stay.' It did feel like this could be the moment that everyone dies. I've been in risky situations in the past, it's one of my riskier situations in the course of my journalism. There was no logical reason why we weren't going to be shot just then.

I hailed a taxi and was completely ready to leave. If I had to do it, I would have hidden behind Phoenix and let him take one for me. It was stupid. I kind of thought the crack dealers had a point, when they were saying 'This isn't fun and games for us, this is real, this is our lives.' I could kind of see where they were coming from. I was nodding to let them know I was on on their side so if the shooting started hopefully they'd shoot around me (laughs). It was evidence that in moments of genuine danger I behave in a pathetic manner.

I did my own patrol with Phoenix -- it was probably about a month after you did it because Jones was talking about doing a photo shoot for GQ -- and most of those crack dealers seemed like they really didn't care that he was on their block. They were wary, but not really concerned. I guess the question is, is confronting these guys doing anything for the greater good?

I agree with that. That's a valid point. I felt like that too a couple nights earlier. There was a scene at the bus stop, there was a couple weird old drug addicts who weren't doing anyone any harm. I said 'Just leave them alone.' And he said 'They're on my street, where civilians are that's my street.' I doubt there was going to be a bus for another two hours. I see Phoenix as a very brave person and kind of awesome, but I don't necessarily feel that he is doing good.

I think he's very good-hearted and very courageous and charismatic and not hypocritical. I kind of quite often judge people on their level of hypocrisy, and that's another reason I like Phoenix. Within his own sphere of morality, he's not hypocritical. But I agree, I don't see the greater good in what he does. You're right, those crack dealers who walked away were probably back an hour later. In fact, I know for certain they were back. I think Phoenix called and told me they were.

I'm sure in little ways he will do good, he'll do small acts of good that will enrich people's lives, probably quite frequently. He'll help people in trouble, give somebody money if they need it. In little ways he does help, but this much wider problem of a completely lawless district of Seattle, that he doesn't help. But if I ran out of gas on the freeway in Seattle, I'd love to see Phoenix Jones.

You kind of glossed over a lot of the criticism that Jones has faced -- do you have any suspicions that he's exaggerating what he's done, or any inkling that he's in this just to get attention for himself?

He's definitely narcissistic, but then again Dark Guardian or these other guys can hardly accuse Phoenix of being narcissistic. Anybody that puts on a costume on goes to fight crime is a narcissist. He is a narcissist, there's not question about that.

But I never got the sense that he was over-exaggerating. Just the time I was with him, he was fearlessly going into what felt like genuinely risky situations. I very much doubt he was doing that just for my benefit. I think he was annoyed that nothing particularly exciting was happening [early in the night]. I think that's why he took me to Belltown and confronted the crack dealers. That was for my benefit, but that's not to say he wouldn't do that normally. I think half of the criticism is valid and the other half is not.

This was obviously written before the infamous pepper spray incident. You include that in the afterword, but what was your reaction to the news and the fallout?

My reaction when I first heard about it was 'Oh Phoenix, what the fuck have you done? I stuck my neck out and you have to go pepper spray these party-goers.' That aspect of Phoenix I don't admire -- jumping into a situation without thinking first. I thought that had bore fruit when he pepper sprays these sweet, innocent party-goers.

But as soon as I saw the video of the party-goers -- he had gone into a genuinely risky situation. The car comes and hits somebody. It did feel like something serious might be going on. I quite quickly revised my opinion and went back onto his side, which is where I am now.

I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but I did feel ever so slightly that there was a bit of a conspiracy going on, that police were using it as opportunity to shut him down in way that, at least in that instance, he probably didn't deserve.

One of the big issues that came out of that was this question of whether he has the right to be out pepper-spraying random people on the street -- were you surprised that backlash didn't happen sooner?

There is this big flaw to his personality: he's desperate to do good. It's almost like he's addicted to it. In fact, at one point I ask him if he's addicted it and he says 'Yes.' I think he is genuinely addicted to it for some psychological reason. The bad way that manifests itself is he'll leap into a situation much too readily. He's very guileless and overly enthusiastic. If you couple that with the sort of narcissistic need to be famous, you're going to have trouble. And that's what I thought had happened until I saw the video.

I think what saves him in that instance is he did do the right think, I think. It was a dangerous situation and he stepped in. Obviously, like all good people, I'm absolutely against vigilantism. So why do i like Phoenix so much? Because he's such a likable person. He'll get less likable if somebody dies, but so far he has stayed on the right side of his actions.

When I interviewed him he almost seemed to relish the idea of dying on patrol as Phoenix Jones. Did you get the impression he wants to make himself a martyr?

Yes, definitely. I don't understand it. It's odd, I wonder whether that comes from immaturity. I don't know. I definitely get that sense. He said 'Yeah if I do die, i want people to know I'm dying for a cause.' He said something like, 'Don't make it look like I wouldn't be dying for a good reason.'

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