I was one of those people who loved Serial immediately. I binged through the first three episodes (as that was all that had been released), then subscribed to the subreddit and spent time reading blog posts that recapped the media I had just consumed.
From there on out, I listened to each episode the moment it came out… right up until I completely stopped. And I remember what caused me to stop listening, and it’s something I have not been able to get over since I stopped listening to it.
The problem with Serial is that it’s a fun show about a real murdered woman. I understand that this is not the first time that a real person’s death has been used to entertain people, but there is a very real sense that everyone involved (Sarah Koenig especially) has a tendency to lose track of the fact that not only did someone actually get murdered over a decade ago, but that the murder victim’s family did not cooperate, participate in, or condone the creation of Serial.
Sarah Koenig is not only not a detective, but doesn’t seem to have ever investigated anything serious before. One of her main motivations is that she thinks the convicted murdered is very charming, and she admits this much in the first episode. Now, I don’t have a particular problem with Sarah Koenig. She actually was an integral part of my favorite This American Life episode, in which her mother explains the seven things people should never discuss. But I don’t think that she maturely handles the subject matter she is attempting to investigate in Serial. The show has the sense of a teenager who is exploring being a private detective for a high school sociology project.
That’s my entire argument. It’s simple, but I wanted to share it because I do not think that people criticize Serial enough, and if they are going to make another season of it, then they can use all the criticism possible, as it may cause them to handle things a little more seriously in the future. I never finished listening to it, and I never will. But if the second season takes a slightly different approach, then I’m willing to try it again.
Something that left me with a different feeling is the recent HBO documentary series, The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst. While, yes, The Jinx also features exhaustive interviews with a man who many believe to be a murderer, there is never the sense that the creators of The Jinx are valuing entertainment for the audience over respect for the murder victims.
That said, it seems that both television shows raise a lot of ethical questions and exist in an ethical gray area, which a few articles, like this one, this one, this one, and a bunch of other ones, all indicate.
At the end of the day, I recommend The Jinx to everyone, and Serial to no one.
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