Serial, the highly publicized podcast by Sarah Koenig, engages listeners in its expedition for justice in the Murder of Hae Min Lee from Woodlawn High School in Baltimore, MD. For those who describe themselves as “obsessed” with Serial, what kind of implications have our obsessions caused to those who are actually involved in this case?
I made an error the other day as I was speaking to a coworker about the Serial podcast. I accidentally referred to a former Woodlawn student and interviewee in the podcast as a “character”. My coworker laughed.
“You realize this is not a book, right?”
I also laughed, and said yeah yeah – it was just a slip of the tongue. But was it?
Since the Podcast came out, there have been other news outlets such as The Intercept, who have criticized the collateral damage it has caused to those involved in the case and interviewed by Sarah Koening. The Intercept published long interviews with two integral people in the case that Serial was unsuccessful in getting statements from: Jay Wilds (key witness in the state’s case against Adnan) and Ken Urick (lead prosecutor in the state’s case against Adnan). Besides giving a voice to these underrepresented persons in Serial, The Intercept takes a hypocritical approach to trying to discredit Serial by engaging in the very type of conduct that they accuse the podcast of doing: having a bias.
Had “Serial” accepted the jury’s conclusion—that Adnan strangled a teenage girl—there would be no storyline, no general interest in the case, and hence no audience.
The Intercept could have avoided an opinion based article, and they were close at moments, but statements like the one above along with others that seek to undermine the work that Sarah Koening and others on Serial did on this project, only perpetuate the illusion that Serial is a “story”, something available for our interpretations.
The Intercept offers followers of this case crucial information from the interviews with Wilds and Urick, but they disregard the reality that this murder actually occurred – not on a page or within the radio waves, but to families, teachers, neighbors, and students. It’s exactly the same type of slip-up as I committed when I disregarded the person behind the name Asia, Jay, Adnan, etc. and referred to them as a “character”, a figure that exists for our own entertainment.
The danger that lies in people’s “obsession” with Serial is that we are involved for all of the wrong reasons. Most of us want answers, not necessarily justice. For how could we – we’ve never met any of the people involved, we don’t know what they look like, what they do for a living, nothing. Listeners are delving into the appearances of the people Sarah Koening talks with, with the assumption that our opinions matter; that because we’ve listened to the podcast two or three times, googled people’s names, and engaged in long winded Reddit arguments about the validity of facts and alibis we have enough expertise to pass judgement. Just like as a movie, book, or play is a snapshot of reality, so is Serial. You will never know what it is like to be a holocaust survivor by watching the Pianist and we will never be able to judge the murder of Hae Min Lee from the comfort of our couches and smart phone speakers.