I came late to the Serial party – late, that is, in the eyes of the Internet. It didn’t take long for me to hear the unique buzzing that seemed to occur every Thursday, and soon Serial was the subject of every proverbial talk around the e-water cooler. Once I listened to the first episode, however, I finally understood what the fuss was about.
For those who don’t know, Serial is a weekly podcast hosted by journalist Sarah Koenig. Created as a spinoff to the already-famous This American Life radio program, it quickly took on a life of its own. It chronicles the investigation into the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee, a high school student from Baltimore. Lee’s ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was later charged with her murder, and has been serving a life sentence in prison for the past 14 years.
During Koenig’s interview on The Colbert Report, host Stephen Colbert dropped the bombshell that Serial is now the most popular podcast of all time. It’s a well-deserved moniker. The story is riveting. It’s easy to understand why this program has taken off as quickly as it has.
What isn’t so easy to come to terms with, frankly, is the public’s response. You don’t have to look very far to run into people who have developed their own theories around the case – around Adnan Syed’s innocence, most often. The subject of another debate is the question of who else could be responsible, if not Adnan. Serial‘s most serious fans have immersed themselves in the story – researching, traveling to landmarks referenced in the podcast, which would be fine, if it was just a story. It’s not.
In spite of our investment as listeners, there comes a point where we can’t ignore the truth of what happened. Best Buy recently came under fire for making a Serial tweet that would have been funny – if it hadn’t been for the fact that it was in reference to the murder of an actual person. The Internet reacted strongly, most negatively. Best Buy took the tweet down and offered an apology in its place, but the damage was done.
We forget that ‘true crime’ is not an arbitrary descriptor of genre. There are times when I’ve had to step back from reading a book when the reality of the subject matter hits me. Regardless of the conflicting witness accounts, the end result was still the same. A girl lost her life – and in the end, someone is responsible. Whoever that might be is still in question.
So we can listen, and we can follow the story as it unfolds, but our enjoyment shouldn’t eclipse our awareness.