I figured I'd join the bandwagon of bloggers talking about The Serial Podcast. I'm taking a break from psychiatry for the moment. If you haven't been listening, Sarah Koenig is orchestrating a year-long investigation into a 1999 murder. 17-year old Adnan Syed was convicted of killing his ex-girl friend and there are a few things that have caught Koenig's attention about the case: an alibi witness was never interviewed, Adnan was a good kid who followed the rules and was no one's pick as a would-be murderer, and there was no physical evidence. Koenig has been hunting down every detail, interviewing Adnan (an inmate in the Maryland state penitentiary), his family, his friends and teachers, and making her way through all the records from the trials. She plays tapes of her discussions with these people, and plays snippets of the trial. The victim's family has not been heard from, and the story is tragic from every direction, and yet still somehow weirdly compelling. The episodes get posted on Thursday mornings, and I believe each episode has over 2 million listeners.
Clink and I have been listening. She is the only person I know who doesn't like it. She says the crime is unremarkable and she's tired of Sarah Koenig's back and forth debate with herself of 'did he do it?' or 'Didn't he do it?'
"She doesn't know. We get it," Clink says.
I asked why she's continued to listen and Clink tells me that once she's started something, she has to finish, whether it's a book or a podcast. If I had this issue, I'd be really picky about what I started.
I like Serial. I really like it. I discovered the series after 3 episodes had been posted, and I listened to all three at once -- strange for me, I'm not a binger when it comes to entertainment. I look forward to Thursdays and the next episode, and I feel sad when the episodes are over. I know that ultimately it's bound to be a letdown: the series will end in a few weeks with no definitive answer, or so I imagine.
Okay, so it does feel odd to listen to the story of a real life murder as entertainment. I worry that the victim's family might be injured by it. If they feel that Adnan was guilty, then knowing that someone is out there revisiting the trial of their family member's murderer must be awful. But, I'm going to rationalize this: we read books about murders and tragedies all the time. Is this different then say reading The Devil in The White City where part of the plot followed an evil serial killer? Or Truman Capote's In Cold Blood about a family that was killed? Maybe. But what if Adnan didn't kill Hae, and what if this podcast inspires freeing an innocent man and perhaps even finding the person who actually did do it? Koenig started investigating this at the request of a family friend of the Syed's.
Issues of justice are compelling -- if you don't think so, check out the reaction people have had to recent police killings. We want the bad guys to get what they have coming to them, and we don't want to see innocent people wrongly incarcerated. And I've spent the last number of months doubling as a journalist researching involuntary psychiatric care; it leaves me in awe of Koenig's reporting. She's a remarkable journalist, but even more, she's a truly wonderful story-teller. She knows exactly how to rope a listener in, and how to keep them listening. Honestly, I think if Sarah Koenig was talking about how to boil an egg, she'd have me transfixed.
Okay, so I want Adnan to be found innocent. The series will be disappointing if he isn't. Guy kills a girl and there's a witness who helped bury the body. Then a journalist questions his guilt and reopens all the wounds and issues, and it turns out he really did do it; that doesn't quite make for a good story if you're telling it knowing how it ends. Adnan is smart and personable --a model prisoner who is faring quite well on the inside-- and it would be nice for the story line if he didn't do it, though really tragic for the victim's family. So far, though, I have to say that the evidence sounds like he may well have done it.