The only MailChimp-sponsored real-life murder mystery podcast in existence (unconfirmed) is presently one of the more gripping pieces of media circulating the pop culture orbit. It’s Serial — one story, told week by week.
Serial’s widespread popularity is odd. Because it’s not a movie, or a television program, or a song, or a teenage romance novel, or a viral video, or a dumb tweet, or really anything one would expect to become popular in 2014. It’s a podcast. Like, a radio show for your phone. Serial is like The War of the Worlds, only if Twitter existed in 1938.
Except for one thing. Serial is a true story. Hae Min Lee isn’t just the subject of some Agatha Christie novel. She was actually murdered in 1999. Which is why whenever it’s talked about, I feel guilty predicting what happens. Theorizing seems wrong, because the story’s conclusion isn’t coming from the imagination of True Detective creator Nic Pizzolatto; the conclusion is coming from what actually happened in real life. You know, the truth. And that’s only if we’re able to find the truth. If not, the story’s conclusion is merely a stab at what occurred in a real-life event — a stab that has real-life emotional ramifications on those who were involved in the event.
But then again, it’s real, which is why it’s so compelling. We care more because it carries legitimate social significance. Fictional murder mysteries are solely for our entertainment; Serial could correct a reckless mistrial.
So, saying you think Adnan didn’t do it could be socially irresponsible. Or it could be really intelligent and productive.
That’s confusing. Let’s talk it out.
PRO — People are talking about the flaws of our legal system in coffee shops and bars.
A massive, massive pro. People are chatting about how trials are mishandled, and how we might be able to fix that, in social establishments across America. Serial is single-handedly raising awareness of an issue affecting our society. What issue? Well, the United States’ legal system is just a really good theory: one v. one, a prosecutor and a defendant, employing two lawyers of equal caliber who argue for justice, will breed a single truth once reviewed by a group of unbiased citizens. Sounds fucking awesome. In theory. Yet, mistrials exist. As great as the old adage — we’d rather 100 guilty men roam free than one innocent man get locked up — sounds, it’s only good in, once again, theory. Our legal system is a little messed up, and now we’re talking about it. That’s a good thing.
CON — But… people are talking about this socially, and Hae Min Lee has a family.
We’re discussing Serial like we discussed True Detective, and Breaking Bad before that, and Lost before that. Which, in part, is great. But there’s a distinction. The frequency of our Serial chat is awesome, for the above pro. But the casualness of it all… hmm. If my sister was murdered, I wouldn’t love logging onto Twitter to read everyone’s take on who the killer is. Just ask Hae’s brother.
PRO — Sarah Koenig’s a really good journalist.
She isn’t a criminal investigator. She makes that clear from the onset. Her job is to follow the story wherever it takes her and to report her findings. And that’s what she’s doing. Regardless of the outcome, this is a story worth investigating further. Plus, she’s an excellent, and very personable, narrator.
CON — But… Koenig has an inherent bias toward Adnan.
This one’s kind of unavoidable. The story isn’t interesting if the crusading journalist sets out to confirm that the court’s version of events was correct. She has to follow Adnan to determine whether the court messed up. But she’s the lone narrator, and she clearly wants Adnan to be innocent. Which makes us want Adnan to be innocent, too. And if he’s really guilty, then we’re lionizing a sociopathic murderer.
PRO — The investigation benefits from increased popularity.
More eyes on the case is always helpful, and some listeners of the podcast have already emailed Koenig to share pertinent information.
CON — #TeamAdnan.
Well, fuck. I mean this was bound to happen. Residing within the confines of Twitter is a school of sharks just waiting to attack topical social events with catchy, simplified hashtags. So obviously #TeamAdnan exists. But likening Adnan Syed to Edward from Twilight trivializes him. It, again, makes him seem like a character from a book, movie, or TV show. He’s not. He is a real person — a person who may be spending his life in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, or a person who may have strangled a teenage girl to death. Either way, doesn’t hashtagging him like he’s a love-sick vampire seem a little irresponsible?
That’s where any conversation I have ends. Talking about this stuff is all positive, but #TeamAdnan makes me cringe.
But then there’s the question of why Serial is so popular. Its realness increases its compelling nature, right? So do we all like it strictly for its entertainment value, or is it popular because we know it could have more significance than those other murder mysteries? That’s a tough one, because it’s undeniably riveting, as well as undeniably important.
And really, the only way to find truth — in that, as well as in the Hae Min Lee case — is to talk about it.
So while I’m not Team Adnan just yet, I think I’m solidly Team Serial.