Thursday, December 18, 2014

Serial

I jumped on the Serial bandwagon kind of late... I only started listening about a week ago, even though I've been subscribed to the podcast through iTunes since around week 4, when my Twitter feed was filled with posts about the ongoing podcast and the story of Hae Min Lee and Adnan Syed.

Today the final installment of Serial's first season was released.  I haven't listened to it yet, but before I do I wanted to share some thoughts.  This post is mostly spoiler free, I think I only mention something about the mishandling of evidence, so if you haven't listened to Serial yet you can read this post without worrying about spoilers.

Thoughts So Far
I've been listening to this podcast rather unemotionally.  Yes, I am interested in Adnan and Hae's stories, but other than a sympathetic "god dammit" in response to Jay's story or the actions of his first lawyer and the investigating detectives, I haven't felt the rabid fervor exhibited by other fans.  It's strange to me to read about people waiting for the next episode as if they were waiting for the next Hobbit movie - Adnan and Hae and their families and community, they're all real people, and the fervor of some of the podcast's fans has taken their lives and distilled them to entertainment.  Before I started listening, I truly wondered if the average listener knew this was a real story about real people - but the format of the podcast, the interviews, the way Sarah Koenig presents the case, no one could miss that this is a real story.

Why are people so excited?  Is it the true crime storytelling aspect - are people listening because they want the story?  Is it because they are concerned for Adnan and want him to get a fair investigation?  Is it because they find the mishandling of evidence and the actions of the detectives and lawyers appalling?  This is fascinating to me, other people's reactions to the podcast and why they find it interesting.

I will admit that one episode had me sitting in my seat in shock, muttering obscenities until they turned into shouts of rage - I was sitting in my living room, talking to the podcast, which I was listening to with my headphones... I got some strange looks from The Boyfriend because of that.  That was episode 7, released November 6th, 2014.  During the discussion of how the nucleated epithelial cells collected from the lip of the brandy bottle found near Hae's body weren't tested, how the rope and the fibers found near and under her weren't deemed significant enough to look at more closely... that was enraging.  I am an anthropologist, and while I am not a forensic anthropologist, I work in a bioarchaeology lab, I taught biological anthropology at the university level, and I have taken forensic science courses, so I have just enough knowledge to know the detectives messed up.

And I believe it was because they thought they had found their guy, so they stopped looking at evidence that would disrupt that narrative... which is bad science and extremely unethical.

If I am on an archaeology site I believe to be one thing, but start finding artifacts that tell me something else, it would be unethical of me to continue with my original hypothesis or ignore artifacts that don't fit my human sacrifice ritual site narrative or whatever I'm hoping to find.  And that just deals with archaeology... that's not someone's life or murder!  So you can see why this made me angry.

The Final Episode
I don't expect Serial and Adnan's story to be wrapped up with a neat little bow.  How could it?  Adnan has an appeal in a month or two, he is still incarcerated, and unless they've been hiding some major piece of evidence or the Innocence Project lawyers interested in the case have found it recently, we're not getting the kind of closure provided by Law & Order or a movie.  This story is not over, and is full of questions that may never be answered.

What I do expect from this final podcast: a discussion of where Adnan's case will go from here and the system that imprisoned him.  A summary of what we've heard over the past months.  Maybe Sarah Koenig's opinion on Adnan's innocence or a follow up from the Innocence Project lawyers/law students, though I don't think they would delve too deep into new evidence or their opinions in case it could influence Adnan's appeal.

Instead of solving Hae's murder or proving Adnan's guilt or innocence, this podcast has served to show how unreliable memories can be, the different perspectives humans have and the conflict of believing someone to be a good person, but still capable of a horrible crime.  This podcast has also shone a bright light on some of the flaws in our justice system; the mishandling of evidence, the ineffectuality and double-dealing of the lawyers and detectives - none of which is new knowledge, but perhaps we'll finally start questioning this old boy's club of politics and judges, lawyers and police.

Final Thoughts
I enjoyed listening to Serial, and will continue listening into Season 2, whenever that is released.  It may be a while, depending on if they have a story already and how much research they've completed.

But I would wait a few months for this podcast.  Especially because it showed me how much I enjoy podcasts that have a narrative to them, instead of just being an interview or a lecture.  I recently realized that about myself - despite being an anthropologist, I really don't like podcasts and documentaries that are little more than unstructured interviews.  But I like the non-fiction narrative of Serial and have found similar podcasts as a result - I've always enjoyed This American Life, and I recently began listening to Radiolab.

I'm really busy today, so I probably won't listen to the final episode until later tonight, but if you've listened and would like to comment, please do!  I would love to discuss this podcast; society's response to it and its popularity, the final episode, why you listened to it or found it interesting.

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