I’m driving to and from Dallas more now and I’ve found that running to music isn’t the best for me. I tend to run to the beat of the music rather than on a steady pace, which cause problems. So, I’m listening to more podcasts than ever before, and I really like the Stitcher app, which allows you to create your own podcast playlist, kind of the radio equivalent of your Netflix queue.
Yesterday, on my drive back, I finally began listening to Serial. Now, I’m probably the last white, female, NPR listener who hasn’t listened to Serial left in the United States. I’m only through episode 6, which I actually finished just as I was pulling up to my house last night. I’ve got to say the problems that others pointed out last fall are some of the same ones I have: Sarah Koenig doesn’t fully explain the cultural context Adnan and Hae come from since the cultural context of being the children of immigrants is given as the prosecutions rationale for their version of events. Now, I don’t entirely agree with Jay Capsian Kang’s critique, and his point about Hae’s diary seems specious after listening to the episode, but I don’t want to go as far as Conor Friedersdorf at the Atlantic does in defending Koenig’s choices. On the one hand, Friedersdorf is right that the examples that Kang pulls out of the first two episodes about Koenig’s white bias aren’t the best to substantiate his claims. His later interview with Rabia Chadury, the woman who first approached Koenig about looking into the case, does more to support his claim about Koenig not understanding the racial and cultural dynamics she’s reporting about. I don’t know Woodlawn, Maryland, but the kind of underlying racial tensions described by Chadury as influencing the jury and the way the case was built make sense as does Koenig’s ignorance of them. I can’t explain the racial tensions defining Dallas and its locations well, or the fact that growing up on the “wrong” side of the city makes me hyper aware of those tensions, but I know those tensions affect all city council decisions, school board meetings, and other municipal functions. Also, realistically, the lack of participation from Hae’s family makes the cultural dynamics harder to understand, but there is also another part that Koenig and seemingly everyone else has missed.
These kids all attended the same high school, a magnet school, which is the only way you’d get this many people from all of these different backgrounds in the same school, even in a larger city. Now, I attended a magnet school. The social awkwardness of Adnan not thinking Jay could be jealous of his friendship with Stephanie, something Koenig keys into right away and the now 33 year old Adnan hadn’t even considered, resonated. Of course he didn’t consider that Jay would be jealous, a magnet student just wouldn’t really. Magnet schools are mini-cultural melting pots of really smart kids with pretty horrible social skills who are good at faking those skills in enough situations. This little kind of detail–one probably no one cares about but me–gets lost because Koenig doesn’t pause to give a bigger cultural picture. Just describing in a bit more detail the kinds of students at this school, where they come from, and the immigrant communities Hae and Adnan are from would give the larger view the narrative seems to lack. Admittedly, I’m at episode 6, but I think this larger view, while useful for me, wouldn’t actually service the true crime story being unfolded here.
On a side note, do we need to be told a serial is a story told in installments, week by week? After all, television serials are pretty common still.