Friday, January 23, 2015

Serial Serial

Alright, alright. I'm late in the game catching on to Serial and everyone else has already listened to it and written their thoughts about it, or so I've been told. So? I'm a little disconnected to American popular culture, cut me some slack! But after our friend Paula visited us in TZ and kept talking about it and went so far as to download the first few podcasts on our computer and force me* to listen to them while we baked cookies, I got hooked. Then, last weekend while Chris was on safari I had a lot of quiet time in the house and I went on a Serial binge, finishing up the last 8 episodes in 2 days. I understand I'm not alone in this.

Anyways, ever since finishing the series on Sunday I have had a lot of thoughts about it swimming in my head and I just want to get them out so I'm jotting down some things here. Admittedly I've not read anything on this podcast or about Adnan Sayed, other than going to the website but I'm sure my ideas are not original. Also, spoiler alert! If you are like me and are out of the loop to what everyone else in the apparent universe is doing and haven't listened to this podcast and you don't want spoilers, then you might want to stop reading here. Otherwise, proceed.

First question people ask when they hear you've just finished listening to the show:

"SO! Do you think he did it!?"

I understand the impulse to ask this question. It's so unclear and there are so many reasons why he could have or could not have done it. It's only natural that we want to hear other people's take on it. But to me, that question is irrelevant. As Sarah Koenig says in the last episode, and one in which I wholeheartedly agree, there is definitely not enough evidence against him to remove any benefit of a doubt, therefore, he should NOT have been convicted in the first place. I won't even begin to pretend that the US justice system isn't flawed. It's a total mess. Our American system of justice is quite perverted and definitely slanted socioeconomically (see more thoughts on this later in this post). But I guess there's a part of me that really believes in it and it makes me really upset that a person can be convicted of such a serious crime with such gaping holes in evidence. Oh and wait! Not just any person-- a 17 year old kid! I mean, look I know 17 year-olds can do just as heinous things as adults. But I still think it's wrong that younger and younger kids these days are being prosecuted as adults. 

Speaking of being a teenager. Do you remember when YOU were a teenager? I sure do remember when I was, despite many years' effort trying to forget the stupid, thoughtless things I did.** For the case of Adnan Sayed, they kept bringing up what I felt was really normal teenage behavior- like stealing money from the collection in mosque or being jealous of his girlfriend- and trying to say that because he did those things he was a bad person, a person capable of murder. I mean, what kid doesn't do stuff like that? Heck, how many times have I heard stories of kids stealing from the collection plate or drinking the wine from church? Even me as a teenager, there were many times when I was with friends as they stole trinkets and things from corner stores. I'm not saying teens should do these things, but I am saying that if they do it's not abnormal. Besides, brain science is now telling us that teenagers are still developing their ability to make rational decisions. Their brains are still being formed up until their early 20's.  So it's part of development, then, that they do stupid things without thinking of consequences. They think they're invincible. That's a dangerous cocktail- a mix of risk-taking behavior with a dab of irrationality coupled with feelings of invincibility. But doing those things does not a murderer make.

But still, stupid things lead to dangerous behavior for teens, with lifelong consequences. Throughout the whole series I kept finding myself thinking about how easy it is for teens to find themselves very quickly in more serious crimes, often without even realizing it. I remember a case from when I was in high school when a boy from a neighboring school was beaten to death with a baseball bat by another group of teens. Luckily my friends at the time didn't have anything to do with the murder. But I knew people who were friends or family of people on both sides of this incident and it really stuck with me, even to this day. One minute two different groups of friends are hanging out, drinking, doing the things kids do. The next minute one of the groups has beaten a kid to death and all of their lives are changed forever. How can it go from one extreme to another so fast?

So as I was listening to these podcasts so many memories of my teenage years came back and I couldn't help but feel sick to my stomach not only for the bullets that I dodged as a kid, but also thinking forward about what life will be like for my children when they are teenagers. How can I instil in them some level of caution- heck maybe even fear- so they understand they're not immune to horrible things happening and that if they make one potential bad move- be it accidental or not- they could be judged based on that move for the rest of their lives? I especially fear this because my husband and I, although we don't yet have kids, we hope to adopt in the near future. Meaning, we don't know what race our child will be. If we raise a child of color, he or she will be put under even more scrutiny. I know this is becoming more and more of a common topic of conversation in American households so maybe by the time my kids are teenagers things will be a little different? But somehow I doubt it. So how is it that before I even have a child I am afraid for his or her life? Sigh.

Lastly, and maybe one of the most important things. Or maybe not? I don't know. I have a hard time figuring out these thoughts in my head. But the whole time I was listening to Serial I kept feeling very voyeuristic. Like, these are real people. Hae Min Lee was a real girl who was really killed. Her parents are still out there grieving for the loss of their child. Adnan Sayed is a real guy. He is still in jail, whether guilty or not. All the people impacted by this crime? They are all real people. What kind of damage was done to them as a result of Hae Min's murder? And what kind of damage is being done all over again by bringing it all up again via radio? I don't know. I don't think there's anything wrong with having this story on radio, per sey. And I definitely think this case deserves another look-see. But I kinda think there's something wrong with us (myself included) for being so captivated by it and wanting to play detective for ourselves. We Americans love a juicy murder story. Heck, I've been spending my nights over the past 2 months watching the TV show Castle, about a mystery book novelist who shadows murder detectives to help flesh out his stories. I can't get enough of it. But that show is a story, a work of fiction. When do we go over the line? And more importantly why are we so drawn to it?

As I already said, our criminal justice system is so effed up and this story demonstrates in minute detail how and it what ways. It's a prime example of our country failing to protect its people. Yet why are we not outraged by it? We spend all this time listening to the story and questioning Adnan's guilt or innocence. Did he do it? Did he not do it? Is Jay lying or telling the truth? But why not question the role of our criminal justice system in this case? Was the case tried fairly? Should a high school student face the same trial as an adult? Was there racial/religious prejudice involved? Where did it go wrong? How can we make a better system not just for Adnan, but for all the Adnans out there? How can we fix this? And why do we not care to fix it? Those are the questions I want answers to.

*Maybe my wording is a little strong here. She didn't force me, but rather gently urged.
 **Sorry again, mom, dad, Jim and Holly. Thanks for loving me anyway and let's not mention those things ever again.

1 comment:

discipleassisi said...

I forced you: Chris and Katie both said, "I don't know, it'll take forever to download, we'd better not..." but I downloaded Serial and some other podcasts besides. Because sometimes friends force friends to listen to podcasts... Thanks for writing this up. Agreed on all counts, except I think Koenig's reporting does a lot to shine light on the faults of criminal justice, which we just wouldn't care enough about if these weren't real people. Is it voyeuristic? Yup. Might it be beneficial now for Adnan and for all the Adnan's to come? Yup. When you can 2 million people on board with a story like this... I think it has a lot going for it on the "goodness to humanity" scale. Love you!