Note: This post contains major details on the podcast Serial, and I would advise you to read this after you have listened to all of season one. Essentially, this post is for the five people I know who are familiar with it.
On an overcast afternoon in November 2014, I tried to figure out what to plug into my ears for a 20 minute walk I had to negotiate to the laundry. I had spent the previous weeks enjoying the free experience that Spotify allowed me, and I was beginning to get a bit sick of Spotify throwing in random songs when I wanted to listen to one in particular. Shuffle playback is a curse when you want to listen to one song in particular.
I had heard about a new podcast that was skyrocketing in popularity in the US, and I was intrigued. I had never listened to podcasts before, thinking it more of a niche media catering to an audience that were more forgiving to amateur produced aural entertainment. But I did some quick research and learnt that the podcast was about a true crime story, and aspired to be an aural version of Game of Thrones or House of Cards. A major story arc unfolding episode by episode every week.
And, it was freely available on SoundCloud.
I decided it was worth checking out.
I prepared myself for what I thought would be a relatively entertaining 53 minutes of a story; an amusing experiment in a new medium that I may very well lose interest in after the first 10 minutes of so.
That's what I thought would happen at least.
The first thing that caught my attention was the fact that the story was a murder. As macabre as it sounds, I love a good murder mystery. I've read them my whole life and I've even attended a murder mystery dinner. And then, almost as if they knew I was listening, they released the big bait. They announced the name of the guy who had been charged with the murder:
A young Muslim boy.
All of a sudden, I needed to know more. As a young Muslim boy myself in 1999, I realised this was not just a random story I happened to peruse. This was, very quickly becoming a story I, bizarrely enough, identified with. I was immediately convinced of his innocence. I knew for a fact that he was set up, and was serving a sentence that wasn't his to serve.
My internal bias kicked into full gear, and 20 minutes later, having hurriedly spoken to the people at the laundry, I marched back home, my face a picture of seriousness as I heard more and more about Adnan's story.
Episode one ended, but I needed to know more. As much as I could. Luckily for me, there were a good 6 or 7 episodes that I needed to catch up on, and I dove right in, shunning phone calls (not that there were that many), texts and emails. I lay on my sofa, staring at the ceiling, listening to Sarah Koenig narrate her investigation into this 15 year old case, that for all legal purposes, was closed. I anxiously paced around my living room, as I was introduced to Jay, Adnan's friends and the investigation tapes.
Each week since, I've listened to a story that I am so far removed from yet am so obsessively involved with. Each week since, I have tried to understand the whole case through the filter of Koenig without resorting to more knee-jerk biased conclusions. Each week, I was more and more emotionally invested in a radio show.
This was new for me. Radio was always about music and the news. Talk radio was just people sounding pompous and liking the sound of their own voice. But this...this was casual yet intricate. A story unraveling page after page, except there were no pages, but this was still hitting the same creative nerves. This was a hark back to the very ancient art of storytelling by a single person.
I finally understood the power of the radio, and how mismanaged it is in today's day and age. I understood how it must have been way back when, as a new medium, when people got not just their news and music, but all their information, entertainment and everything in between, sitting around the fireside, listening to the big boxy beasts.
And now, season one has ended and, understandably, there are no concrete answers yet. Will the DNA testing prove the killer to be somebody else? Or will it point the finger back at Adnan? Why was Adnan communicating with Jay about his murder, when they weren't really the close to begin with? Why did they spend the day together? Why did Jay change his testimony multiple times? Why did Adnan's lawyer not do a better job? How did the jury reach a verdict so quickly when there were so many holes in the case? Does the mysterious Mr. S. have larger part to play in all of this? Who is lying and why?
Is Adnan innocent?
And when will season two broadcast?
I know as much as you do, obviously, but for me, this has been an unexpected indulgence. I've never, ever, been so emotionally invested in a radio show. But this show makes a great argument that radio can be involving, cutting edge and thought provoking.
Podcasts and radio have benefitted from this success.
Adnan's story has benefitted. So many more people are now asking questions that were never asked.
Sarah Koenig has benefitted, becoming a cerebral celebrity (in a world with a dire lack of such specimens).
But who's benefited the most?