How To Go Crazy Over The Latest Craze
You've probably heard of Serial by now. You've probably read a think piece about Serial, or heard a friend or coworker or Grindr hookup rave about it. I even recommended it in my updated podcast post. Until last week, however, I didn't now just how deep the Serial fandom ran. It was the discovery of The AV Club's new podcast, The Serial Serial, that led me down an enlightening, disturbing, and in the end, satisfying rabbit hole. I'm not sure if this is completely necessary, but here's a quick rundown of what exactly Serial is: It's This American Life's first spinoff podcast, where TAL producer Sarah Koenig investigates the trial of Adnan Sayed, who has been convicted of strangling his girlfriend Hae Min Lee in 1999, when they were both in high school in Baltimore. Koenig was asked to look into this story by a sister of one of Adnan's friends, who believes Adnan to be innocent. Koenig is on a mission to find out what really happened, but as the show goes on we learn that this story is even more convoluted and confusing as Koenig herself initially believed. Episodes are released every Thursday morning (for my fellow Pacific Timers, they go up between 3 and 4am, in case you're looking for a little light murder talk on your morning commute), and Koenig herself is only a few months ahead of this story herself. Part of the deal with Serial is that Koenig is presenting her investigation in almost-real time.
Before last week, I didn't know anyone who listened to Serial. At least not people that I talk to regularly. I was craving an outlet for all these thoughts and theories and opinions that I had stored up over the past two months. I hit the jackpot twice in one day: I was at a party and finally (FINALLY) found someone who was also a Serial listener, and earlier that morning I had learned about The Serial Serial, a new podcast where AV Club staffers discuss the latest episode. I found the IRL convo fantastic, and The Serial Serial so-so, but the disappointing podcast-about-a-podcast did lead me to something I'm completely enamored with: Slate's Serial Spoiler Specials.
During the one episode of The Serial Serial I heard (because as of me writing this post there has only been one episode), one of the cohosts mentioned that he heard something on another Serial dissecting podcast (but didn't give a name), and my interest was piqued. In about three seconds I was downloading every episode of Slate's Serial Spoiler Specials, then I listened to all of them in one go. The episodes aren't super long, although the most recent (covering "The Deal With Jay") was 45 minutes because, and if you listen to Serial you know this to be true, there was a LOT to cover. What makes this more than just a recap show is that they delve deeper into the topics covered by Serial that week, by bringing in guests who offer some pretty amazing insights. One guest was the Slate reporter who had recently interviewed Koenig about Serial, and the panel discussed the difference between journalism and storytelling and how Serial has been sort of interweaving the two into a whole new medium. The most recent episode featured Jamie Floyd, who worked for CourtTV, as an attorney, AND on crime policy under the Clinton administration (among many other amazing accomplishments). The first thing Floyd talks about is how critics have said that Serial is to radio as The Wire was to TV, and I immediately fell in love with her.
One of the things that makes Serial so appealing to me is that it's not overly sensationalized. Not to burst anyone's bubble, but in the end, we probably won't know the whole story of what happened to Hae Min Lee. I don't think that's a shocking statement, but after listening to so many people (both in real life and through my headphones) discuss this podcast, I feel like many listeners think this is a crime procedural instead of real life. Real people's lives have been destroyed by this horrible event. It's my hope that by the end of Serial's first season, the takeaway isn't that an innocent man is released from prison and we all go skipping off into the sunset, but rather that listeners get to understand how the criminal justice system works in this country.
I can't remember what episode of Slate's podcast it was, but one of the panel members (maybe my favorite person Jamie Floyd?) said that Adnan shouldn't be in jail, but not because he's necessarily innocent - because the case against him didn't prove he was guilty. I can't tell you how many times I have thought this, and how vindicated I felt to hear an actual legal professional back up my own thoughts. The way I see it, he's guilty of something, but the job of a prosecution is to prove guilt, and they didn't sufficiently do that, but he went to prison anyway. (On the other hand, the job of the defense is to defend, and I don't think Adnan's attorney did that either.)
I also learned from Slate's infinitely superior Serial commentary that Reddit is going a little nutso over the show, the case, and pretty much everyone involved. I did read (and retweet) the post that was allegedly from Hae's little brother, but I purposely haven't delved into this subreddit thread. It just seems a little too ghastly to me. Again, this is something that really happened, in the real world, to real people, and I'm afraid of the rage I'll feel to discover anonymous internet users treating it like it's a murder mystery radio play. The one thing I did find enlightening about the Reddit post I did read was that apparently Koenig never contacted Hae's family (?!). Or she did, but only her brother, not her parents, and even then only through Facebook. That just seems like bad journalism. I doubt the identity of Hae's brother, only because I can't believe that a professional journalist would be so sensitive as to not bring recording equipment into Jay's house, but never tried to contact the victim's parents, even to inform them that she was doing a story on their daughter's murder.
I was worried that I would find Serial too sensationalized and ghoulish for me to enjoy it. In general, I don't like crime as entertainment. But Serial has sucked me in, and I hope that it reaches a satisfying conclusion. Like I said before, for me, I think "satisfying" means that more people learn how criminal justice actually works in this country (i.e., nothing like a crime procedural, no matter how "authentic" they claim it is). If you're hungry for more information and discussion about Serial, I cannot recommend Slate's podcast enough. Definitely no ghouls in sight!