Serial is a podcast that took the pop culture world by storm this year. It has been an interesting experiment; both in its effect on the real-live people involved and the reactions and involvement of the people listening. If you are (somehow) unfamiliar with what Serial is, the podcast was a new addition to the NPR family and it was put together by “This American Life” producer Sarah Koenig. It was a week-by-week podcast chronicling the murder of a Baltimore-area teen back in 1999. Adnan Syed, the man put away for the murder, maintained his innocence not only throughout the whole trial, but throughout the entirety of this podcast. Serial doesn’t say outrightly that they are trying to prove Adnan did or didn’t do it but that is clearly what the podcast turned into. Each week evidence is presented and Koenig and her team go through it with a fine-toothed comb, looking for holes and contradictions. They find many and it made for a criminally addicting podcast experience (pun intended).
But what fascinated me even MORE than the case itself, was Serial’s effect on the general public and also, what NPR was looking to do or accomplish with the podcast. Obviously they wanted it be successful, which happened, but what else, if anything, did they want to do? What did they hope would happen? I know Koenig wanted to tell a story, but as the podcast unfolded, it definitely seemed to me that she really wanted to solve this case somehow. I’m not saying she assumed she would, by a long shot, but that she definitely wanted to. Either for the podcast’s sake, Adnan’s sake, for her own curiosity’s sake – or for all 3 reasons. Because of this, I don’t feel that the podcast approached telling this story with the most unbiased way, which is generally how investigative reporting should be approached. She did have another driving factor – she had to make it enticing. She had to make people want to keep tuning in.
I’m not surprised that Serial became so popular – there’s a reason there are 100 different CSI shows and that Law & Order has been on TV since the Dawn of Time – but I am a little surprised the fervor with which people have responded. The subreddit for this show is insane. It’s so interesting (and maybe, kind of messed up) that, 16 years after the fact, millions of people think that they can solve this crime based off a podcast that is filled with primarily interviews and random bits of facts and evidence. Like, I know people who would literally say “I 100% know that Jay killed Hae.” Oh, so you were there? You can’t know that 100% unless you were. If this case were that much of a slam dunk, this podcast wouldn’t exist. But because everyone loves to be right, people felt the need to throw in their two cents so later on they could say “See, I was right!”
But the problem is that a resolution will likely never happen. The show didn’t end with some big reveal (there was some “new info” but I’ll get to that in a second) of who the killer was, so it is likely that we aren’t going to know definitely what happened with Adnan, Hae, Jay and everybody else. This particular story was one season of Serial, it’s not going to continue next season; they will move onto something else. They aren’t going to keep investigating because they don’t really have a reason to anymore.
The last episode of Serial was good, I thought, and ended the only way it could’ve (and should’ve): with Sarah Koenig stating her last opinion on the case. I was honestly surprised at how many people on social media expected the “truth” to be revealed. Had we not been listening to the same podcast? It became evident to me by the 4th episode that I was not listening to something that was going to be resolved. But that isn’t why I listened – but it may be why a lot of people did. There were two things in the last episode that bothered me, though. #1: Sarah Keonig talked about how speculation, especially of the emotional kind, is dangerous because you can’t prove it. But…at least 50% of Serial is made up of exactly that. And it was dangerous, because she was dealing with real people’s lives and was broadcasting those speculations to millions of people, many of which fancied themselves Sherlock Holmes and figured they could solve the case. #2: The new info about Ronald Lee Moore. What a tasty little morsel to dangle above everyone just before the podcast ends. This just seems like something that happens in TV or Movies, but probably not in real life. Going back to point 1, this is a pretty big speculation to throw out there. Sarah even says the DNA kit could likely give them nothing, let alone DNA that would link a serial strangler to Hae. It just felt like something to get people riled up over. Obviously this came from the Innocence Project and not Koenig herself, so there wasn’t even a ton of research done by the Serial team themselves. I don’t know if that point is even relevant, but it came to my mind.
Overall, I think Serial was fascinating and frustrating on many levels. I learned a hell of a lot about the judiciary system (never even come within even a large proximity of a person who may commit a crime) and I learned a lot about people as a whole. It’s obviously fun to try to figure out if he did/didn’t do it, but maybe everyone has a hard time remembering that Adnan is a real person. That Jay is a real person. That Hae was a real person. And if Jay didn’t kill Hae, how awful would that be for him to have to see a whole mess of people, who don’t know him, assume they know him enough to pin a murder on him.
I think Koenig asked a lot of questions that no one asked when the case was unfolding and brought a lot of things to light that may have never been brought up without Serial. But…was that a good thing or a bad thing? If Adnan is acquitted and set free, it was a good thing; but if not…it disrupted quite a few lives in the process. All I know is I’ll be tuning in for Season 2.