Consuming Serial

When there was news that producers behind the radio show This American Life (TAL) were planning to launch a podcast called Serial, I was already sold just based on my love of TAL. I had no idea what the show would be about except that they were changing up the format: instead of a few stories in one episode like TAL, it would follow one story throughout many episodes. Also, Serial was going to live as a podcast, not as a radio show.

So when I started listening to Episode 1, I didn’t know that the podcast would follow the story of Adnan Syed, a Muslim guy in Maryland who was convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend in 1999 when he was 17 years old. The story was first brought to the attention of Sarah Koenig, the host and executive producer of Serial, through lawyer Rabia Chaudry, a friend of Adnan who has known him for quite some time and is convinced of his innocence. Throughout the episodes, Koenig has been presenting her own investigation, including interviews with Adnan, who is still serving time, to going over court transcripts, and even running through the court established timeline of events the day of the murder.

Six episodes of the podcast have been released so far with new episodes popping up on Thursdays and they are downright riveting. No joke.

I’m hardly the only one who thinks so as the podcast has become incredibly popular. On Slate, there is even a podcast where they discuss the podcast, which I totally understand because right when I finish listening to an episode, there is really nothing I’d rather do than talk about the latest events over with someone. Seriously, zero sarcasm with that statement.

Adnan Syed from 1998
Adnan Syed from 1998 - Picture from

It’s been also interesting to read the blog posts of Chaudry as she has been writing about the episodes and providing information to supplement an episode or giving her own take/point of view. However, while reading through one of Chaudry’s posts in particular, I realized something that for some reason never even occurred to me – the producers have been shaping the narrative that they have been presenting, which may influence the way in which the listeners think about this story.

Chaudry first addressed this with her post called “Not Totally Loosey Goosey” in which she writes about the way she was characterized to listeners in the very first episode. The narrative of the first episode may have pushed viewers to think of Chaudry in a certain way, one that may not reflect the kind of person she actually is.

I felt the guided hand of producers with the latest episode (no worries, no spoilers on my end), in which they present the evidence against Adnan. The phone call Koeing said was the “smoking gun”, a specific phone call, seemed like anything but and yet I wonder if people took hold of the term “smoking gun” and automatically thought the call was damaging since it was presented to them as such even though honestly? That call didn’t prove anything to me and I couldn’t help but feel a bit frustrated, underwhelmed, and also slightly duped.*

None of this means that I’m going to stop listening to Serial. I’m so addicted to that podcast that it’s a bit unhealthy. I get all twitchy when I’m done with an episode, counting down to the release of the next new podcast. I’m even trying to get more people to listen to it so I can talk about each episode to folks in person.

What I will do though is to make sure to keep up with Chaudry’s blog posts to supplement what I hear on the podcast. This isn’t some murder mystery story for me to be entertained – someone was actually killed and someone else is in jail for it and the least I can do is be aware of the whole story.

You can listen to Serial here. Make sure to listen to it in order!

Rabia Chaudry’s blog can be found here. You’ll be doing yourself a favor by keeping up with those blog posts.

Side Note: I have to admit, it’s kind of surreal to have a story about a guy named Adnan Syed be in the forefront of American pop culture. I know, I know, those of you who haven’t heard of Serial are probably just shaking your head and saying that a podcast, even a popular one, hardly represents the American zeitgeist. But the thing is, this podcast isn’t necessarily about a Muslim person but about a person who happens to be Muslim. Serial is an example of the American population looking past religion and focusing on the story as a whole. That’s kinda huge. By the way, I mean no disrespect to the people involved as they have been living this reality for 15 years. I’m just saying that this story is important and I do hope that the podcast leads to some sort of closure.

One more thing, even though my opinion doesn’t matter (we are all only just listeners anyways) I don’t think Adnan did it. Besides the fact that none of the evidence so far has been convincing enough, the murder took place during Ramadan. Dude would’ve waited until the month was over at the very least!

Anyways… I’m ready for the next episode!

*I couldn’t help but think about the way we are told how to feel, what to think, how to react, while watching the movie Nightcrawler in the theater over the weekend. The newscasters present the story they want to show, essentially urban crime creeping into the suburbs. They show the stories that would reinforce that narrative, ignoring the stories that don’t or framing the stories themselves to fit the angle. Jake Gyllenhaal’s character Lou embraces the mandate as he scours LA for something terrible to film and sell to the news show, sidestepping morality when it comes to how he gets the video, crafting it to make it show what he needs it to be. Nightcrawler is a really good movie. Creepy, intense and those scenes towards the end – wow. Besides Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo and Riz Ahmed were also pretty awesome. Check it out.

6 thoughts

  1. Just started listening to Serial myself and also am hooked. Only finished the third podcast today, so still have a ways to go to catch up with everyone else. I want to believe he is innocent like everyone else, but I’m thinking he probably did do it unfortunately.

  2. OK, I’ve been seeing this around online and it only just dawned on me that I was listening to NPR some Fridays ago earlier when it was still summer I when I think someone involved with the project was being interviewed about a case and at that time, they were unsure if it was going to continue with another case – I think it was Serial, I could be wrong. But I just remember the conversation being about going in depth with certain crimes that had taken place . But I hadn’t actually listened to any podcasts, but it did sound very intriguing to get a more inside look at these crimes.

    Thanks for this – as I have already done, have posted some your blog posts on the forum I’ve been a member of and I just logged on there to see a new thread on this, so will add it there :)

    It’s this site:

  3. I am listening to serial now since you and Viv discussed it. It’s definitely interesting because this situation really does transcend religion and race. I identify with Hae Mi not as a Korean-American girl with immigrant parents but as a woman (no religion or race attached) who could be brutally murdered. I feel like most girls at the age of 17 or 18 could find themselves in a vulnerable position.

    I agree with you based off the evidence presented, it does not seem like he did it or rather that the jury did not have enough evidence presented to convict Adnan Syed with a guilty verdict.

    I can’t imagine sitting in jail for over 15 years and being innocent.

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