So, do y’all remember me writing about how much I loved the podcast Serial awhile back? I’m not sure I stand by that anymore.
(Do I give a Spoiler alert here? I mean, this is a true story that’s out on the internet, not a scripted TV show no one knows the ending of. I don’t know. I guess if you haven’t listened to the podcast and don’t even want to know how they handled the story, then this might spoil things. But if you’re not sure you care, or maybe considering listening to it, then I don’t think this will spoil things. But I DON’T KNOW! POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD?)
I did really like it. And while a lot of people complained when the host went from actual investigating of facts to “discussing of personal opinions” …I didn’t mind that. I felt like that made a lot of the characters, including the host as she was a character herself, 3-dimensional and not just “someone who saw this ________” or “someone who did this _________” BUT! The second the last episode played without any sort of wrap-up reminding the listeners that Hae Min Lee was still dead, it suddenly felt very exploitive.
I think I expected the final episode to kinda remind people of that, since it did feel like culture – as a whole – was discussing this podcast like it was the latest episode of Scandal and forgetting there’s still a dead 18-year old girl at the center of the story. I mean…I understood that excitement, it was a well-done podcast. I didn’t mind the fervor around it at first, but I did feel like it was the job of the podcast to bring everyone back to reality in the end. And they didn’t.
The final episode was fine, I liked that we got to hear from the producers more and I liked that Sarah Koenig was very honest about how often she changed her mind about things, but it surprised me that no one ever said – when discussing other potential suspects, “And it keeps me awake at night knowing the real murderer could be still out there.”
Why didn’t they say that? There were small little things like that, that I expected on the last episode, to bring it all back from the “Law & Order” feel of a TV show you’re trying to guess the ending of, to a REAL story involving a REAL tragic murder. And none of that happened. No thoughts on how – if the wrong guy is in jail – there could be a murderer still roaming free. Not discussion about how, if the right guy is in jail, they’ve dug up a traumatic phase in everyone’s history for nothing. Sarah Koenig did not keep the 4th wall up at all, she often discussed how the popularity of the story led them down new paths of investigation. So why didn’t they discuss how that same popularity made them feel more like they were writing a scripted television show than doing a journalistic piece on a possible botched trial?
I don’t know…I guess I just expected some “real” talk on the last episode, maybe even some discussion about how the popularity of the podcast got weird considering there’s still a tragic murder in the center of it all. Maybe just a gentle reminder to people writing blog posts and podcasting like it is a television show…that it’s NOT a television show. It’s a true story. It might deserve a little more respect than, say, your recap of The Good Wife.
But nope, just a basic wrap-up. Good, but just missing a lot, to me. Missing a lot that would have made me feel comfortable with people joking about their addiction to it. I don’t know, it just went from “Holy Cow…this is an interesting look on crime investigation and murder trials!” to “Why am I saying I’m addicted to a story about a girl’s murder?”
I’ve been sitting on that for weeks, trying to decide how I felt about it all. And then they started offering swag with the show logo – and that felt REALLY weird. Maybe after there’s a second season with a different story it won’t feel weird. But right now, all that logo means to me is “A story about the murder of an 18-year old girl!” And who wants that logo on their coffee mug?
And then there was MORE digging by other journalists and agencies and there were podcasts about podcasts and I DON’T KNOW…It just got weird. REALLY WEIRD.
So, I’ve stopped talking about it completely. I don’t recommend it anymore. I still think it was well done and if it hadn’t gotten so popular, none of this would sit wrong with me. But since it became a pop-culture hit, something that Entertainment Weekly wrote about, I felt like the last few episodes should have maybe brought the people listening back down to earth a bit. I definitely don’t think they should be selling swag until that logo stands for something other than Hae Min Lee’s murder. When someone asks me if I listened to it, I give them this long speech that basically says what I’ve said here.
What about you? Did your feelings change about it? Did any of the fanfare sit weird with you?
4 thoughts on “About that Podcast I recommended…”
Did you listen to Terry Gross’s interview with Sarah Koenig on Fresh Air? I recommend it as a better way to wrap your head around the show. Terry asks really good questions and I felt like Sarah did a good job conveying her unease with this story becoming something consumed for pop entertainment. I think it is an interesting piece of investigative journalism and it is a fluke it hit it so big. Like, would we feel as weird about it if it was just a quiet podcast that only dedicated listeners knew about? One thing good I thought came from it was a reinvestigation into the case that landed Adnan in jail. If he is indeed innocent or was sent to prison without a proper defense, this podcast opened the possibility of rectifying that.
I heard about Serial and thought I might add it to my list of podcasts… I LOVE crime shows and tend to have a rather morbid curiosity with that stuff. Then I learned it was about a REAL PERSON and got super weirded out and have avoided it like the plague ever since. It makes me feel really gross inside, for all the reasons you listed.
I’ve never listened to the podcast, for the simple reason that I couldn’t separate it’s popularity with the masses from the fact that it was someone’s Very Real tragedy. It’s the fine line that always exists when tragedy is covered in the media. I think in this case that line was made even blurrier by the fact that so many people that loved Serial seemed unaware that it wasn’t a work of fiction. The swag thing is definitely gross.
I didn’t get too weirded out about the realness until after it was over and I read the interviews with Jay where he shared how hard it has been on his family. That disgusts me. No matter what his involvement was, he deserves privacy. I feel that was mostly due to weird/obsessed Reddit fans than how Sarah K handled it.
I second Liz’s comment that I felt that Sarah K’ sincerity and trying to be ethical and respectful really came through in the Terry Gross interview.