The Serial Podcast has become a major obsession but really, for all the wrong reasons. It has brought out the typical sleuthing mob that all too often mobilizes bored people on the internet with too much access to research materials at their fingertips. This was what happened to many of us (myself included) during the Boston bombing manhunt, and it happened during True Detective, where the desire for there to be a much bigger conspiracy took over the actual plot of the series. And now, it’s overtaken the case of Hae Min Lee and the efforts of the Sayed family to have their son, Adnan Sayed, freed prison for the death of his ex-girlfriend.
The reason is the podcast itself, an excellent work of sometimes objective and sometimes subjective journalism by Sarah Koenig as an offshoot of This American Life. It has brought up so many things during its run, including what most Americans think about Muslims in the post 9/11 world, immigrant parents who shelter their kids from everything to ensure their success in America, teen love, teen crime, friendships, and of course the facts of the case – cell phone records, witness testimony, a now diseased defense attorney who was found to be deliberately throwing cases to make more and more money off the desperate families paying for her services.
The podcast at first takes the stance that its subject, Adnan Syed, could possibly be innocent of the murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee. Adnan is a sympathetic subject. He seems like the nicest, sweetest guy who would never hurt anyone. But the problem is — and Koenig admits this if you listen very carefully to what she’s saying and how she says it — the facts of the case do not seem to leave room for reasonable doubt. Reasonable doubt in the court sense probably should have gotten Adnan off back in 1999. It seems that the only thing they had on him was the testimony of his friend Jay and cell phone record of his being in Leakin Park where the body was found the night she went missing.
But every piece of hope that Sarah Koenig — or as we refer to her on Reddit SK — turns up ends to not be good for Adnan. The alibi witness says she remembered seeing Adnan in the library on the day Hae went missing. But she remembers it because it was snowing really hard – the first snow of the year she said. There was no school the next day. The problem is that the weather report says it didn’t snow that day. The witness must have been thinking of another day.
Could the cell phone records be false? Well, no, the producers sent the records to the top specialists in the field and they said it was valid. Adnan says you couldn’t leave school, murder someone in roughly 20 minutes. SK and her producer drove the route and found that they could, in fact, make it. They were cutting it close but they made it.
As we went along, chattering away about is he guilty or isn’t he – the most recent episode was revealed. It was called rumors and it not only talked about what some people remember about Adnan but it also revealed how much it bothered him that everything has been dug up and on such a public scale. Adnan is in prison and now he’s famous. Jay, the witness in the case, is now famous. Hae’s family’s tragedy has now become famous.
There is no way SK and her crew thought in a million years Serial would become this popular. No other podcast has ever come anywhere close to being this popular. This last episode, though, with Adnan’s desperate voice to want it all over with left me with a feeling of ickyness. I just felt bad about it – why were we treating this whole thing as entertainment? It isn’t a TV show – it’s real life.
At first I couldn’t stop thinking about, listening to it, googling to find to find clues whether there was a payphone at the Best Buy in Baltimore, MD in 1999. But after the last episode this feeling of being too close to a murder started to creep in. We’re talking about the unimaginable here. It is deeper and scarier than fiction.