May I Be Boring and Talk about “Serial”?

I’m going to do this in bullet fashion, because my thoughts are all over the place with this recent obsession of mine. Not sure yet whether or not there will be spoilers, but probably there will be.

  • Okay, first things first. Is having a husband who just seems to refuse to be the least bit interested in Serial grounds for divorce? Is there anyone else out there suffering from this breach-of-wedding-vow behavior? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought that the traditional wedding vows speak of staying true in sickness and in health. If someone is sick with the inability to stop thinking and talking and dreaming (yes! I did dream about it) about Serial, don’t you think it’s a spouse’s duty to find out everything he can about this obsession by, say, you know, listening to an episode or two? In fairness to said spouse, there’s hope. He did, just today, tell me that he’s very interested. He just wants to have the time and space to devote to it. Then again, he’s a minister. As any minster’s wife  can attest: that time and space will never come. Not even while on “vacation”. It will come, maybe (hope springs eternal!), when he retires. By then, I will have forgotten all about this season.
  • I came to Serial late in the game. Don’t get me wrong. I love This American Life (how else would so many have discovered my hero David Sedaris?). I love other NPR shows. Okay, I (mostly, except for some of its annoying quirks — a subject for another blog post) love NPR. Still, I mainly listen to it while driving around in the car. Sometimes I bother with podcasts when I’m in the middle of something really good, get to my destination, and can’t finish it. Serial was all podcasts. I’m lazy. I couldn’t just tune into it while driving around, and I’d much rather pick up a book — instant gratification — than bother with finding and downloading podcasts. Then again, I hate doing housework, and there is NOTHING  better to distract me while cleaning, doing laundry, dusting, etc., when I decide it absolutely MUST be done (once a month or so) than listening to something interesting. Thus, I decided to download Serial during one of my “my shoes are sticking to the kitchen floor” moments. By then, we were already 8 episodes in.
  •  I am not a binge anything. I’m not a binge eater/watcher/reader/listener/whatever else one can binge on-er. If you don’t believe me, here’s some evidence: despite loving the first two books, I still haven’t read Mockingjay. I’ve only watched one season of Downton Abbey, which I also really liked, and I probably need to clear out some Christmas cookies left in the freezer from last year to make room for this year’s cookies. Nevertheless, I downloaded the first 8 episodes and found all kinds of housework to do that I normally wouldn’t bother with. I listened to 8 episodes as quickly as I could, which, luckily, wasn’t quickly enough not to be on episode 11 before I had to wait for the next episode, which (wouldn’t you know it?) happened to be the last. I had to wait 6 whole days for the finale. (I applaud all those of you who went week-by-week. How on earth did you do that?) I have to admit that while listening and being interrupted umpteen million times by things that made me have to stop, I more than once found myself longing for those days when I had a 45-minute-one-way commute to work.
  • Talk about longing. I also found myself longing for the days when I spent 8 1/2 hours in the office every day with like-minded people. I’m sure there would’ve been plenty of talk of Adnan, Jay, the weird Mr. S pursued and dropped just like that, etc., were I still standing around water coolers with such people.
  • Because I’m busy working on a novel, I’ve been doing a lot of research into sociopathy, which when I was in college, we were taught was the new term for what was once known as psychopathy. My research has led me to understand that today the two terms have evolved, although many in the field still don’t distinguish between them. Others do. Both disorders are classified under the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth edition) subject heading of “antisocial personality disorder”. I’m finding more and more that I fall into the camp of those who make a distinction. If you’re curious and want a really nice, succinct description of the difference between the two, as I’ve come to understand it, you can read this. Anyway, all this leads me to wonder: who could be labeled a sociopath or a psychopath in this series? A couple of times, Sarah Koenig, our reporter/storyteller wonders if she’s dealing with a very convincing psychopath (okay, I guess this post is going to include spoilers, so if you haven’t yet listened to the podcast, read further at your own peril) in Adnan. Personally, I don’t think so. At one point, she tells us that no one in prison with Adnan believes he is a murderer. They all like him. I know psychopaths are notoriously charming, but I also know, from my research, that most of them don’t wind up in prison. Prison is a place where I think psychopaths would easily be identified by their fellow inmates. They would’ve learned to see through the charming facade of someone who’d been there for 15 years.
  • Jay is the one described by friends as someone who lied all the time. Now, he might just be a pathological liar, but lying is also a key component in identifying sociopaths and psychopaths. I have a sneaky suspicion that Jay is a sociopath. He’s definitely presented as someone who shows a disregard for laws and social mores; and friends describe him as someone who could have violent outbursts. And from what we’re told, he didn’t seem to care too much about Hae’s death. He seems a little scary to me. I’m willing to go one step further and say he might be a psychopath, because he seems to be the sort who’s studied others’ emotions and knows how to mimic them, the way, for instance, he cried during the trial. I can’t decide because I can’t quite decide if Hae’s murder was unplanned or planned.
  • A few things have stuck out with me: 1. Adnan seemed genuinely surprised when Sarah and her producer were able to reenact Jay’s story of the murder and had time to do it. He was certain that would be the key piece of evidence proving he couldn’t have done it. Either that’s because he didn’t kill Hae, or it’s because he did but not that way, and he knows it’s a loophole that could get him off. 2. Adnan told Jay, in court, he was “pathetic”. Sarah just seemed to skim over that, but I think it’s an important clue. Why did he say that? It could be Adnan was upset with Jay for framing him. It could be that the two killed Hae together, and Adnan is upset with Jay for not owning up to his role.  3. If Adnan killed Hae, the only motive is a “crime of passion”, which means it’s highly unlikely that he would have plotted to the degree necessary to commit this crime, especially if he’s not a psychopath, which again, I really don’t think he is. Jay, on the other hand, who, if he is a psychopath, doesn’t need any real motive at all. Maybe he was upset that Adnan was such good friends with his girlfriend and maybe Hae had done something that annoyed him (she’s been described as someone who could be annoying at times), and he decided to get revenge on Adnan by killing someone he knew Adnan probably still loved, even though they’d broken up, someone he didn’t like much himself. If he was a psychopath, he would’ve plotted details carefully, and this does seem that it could’ve been a very carefully plotted murder. He had Adnan’s car. He had Adnan’s cell phone, which makes it possible for him to “butt dial” someone only Adnan would call, at just the right time to make such a call very suspicious. Psychopaths think about such things. It’s why so many get away with murder, why our prisons are not full of psychopaths, like people think they are.
  • Let’s forget who did it, though. Sarah’s right. Despite everything that makes me believe he’s innocent, Adnan might not be. This podcast was a wonderful case study in how faulty our criminal justice system is. I know a lot about this because the first church I joined as an adult was deeply invested in prison ministry; I’ve edited quite a few books on the topic, especially when I was a multicultural studies editor; my sister Lindsay used to teach art in prisons, and I learned quite a lot from her; and I’m just generally interested, reading books and watching movies that address the issue. When I was in my twenties, I was a death penalty advocate. I’m not anymore. Not because I think a psychopathic killer deserves to live, but because I know how faulty our system is, and I know how many innocent people wind up in prison, on death row. I also know how many people wind up in prison who really belong in rehab centers or under psychiatric care, or who just need to be given gainful employment so they don’t have to resort to stealing. I’m hoping that, as Serial keeps going, it will become a show that really examines these cracks in the system. We got a taste of that during this first season — the ex-cop who’s busy trying to change the way suspects are interrogated, the U.Va. law professor who has students reinvestigating cases, the juror interviewed who didn’t understand why Adnan didn’t take the stand, didn’t defend himself if he was innocent, etc. I want more stories that shine a light on how, despite the ideals we claim to hold, most people are “guilty until proven innocent” — whether by cops or jurors or just society as a whole.
  • At one point, Adnan very poignantly discusses how hurt he is that the people in his community turned on him so easily. Having no evidence, whatsoever, until the day his ex-girlfriend winds up dead, most of them easily seem to accept the fact that he’s the sort of guy who would’ve plotted down to the last detail her murder, that he could be such a cold-blooded murderer. It’s sad, but I’m not surprised at all. This is life in our society. I’ve witnessed it in school environments.  I’ve witnessed it in work environments. I’ve witnessed it in the small towns in which I’ve lived. Someone, for some reason (probably because he or she is a sociopath) decides to spread malicious gossip about someone else, and despite the fact that that person has never shown any sign of being the sort who would cheat on her husband/beat his child/torture cats, whatever, the next thing you know, everyone is shying away from that person and keeping eagle eyes trained on him or her, looking for verification (and they will find it. When you look for something like that, begin writing and believing that story in your head, you will turn the most innocuous actions into proof) that he or she is the devil incarnate.
  • This particular episode of Serial could also be an interesting case study in the hierarchy of American racism. I find it fascinating that this program was becoming a huge hit during the same period of time when this country has been shining a light on racial bias and prejudice in our legal system. One could make the argument that, in this case, Jay, being black is considered more “American” than Adnan, the Pakistani American. Therefore, he was more believable. I know I’m not the first to wonder what this case would have been like if Adnan had been white. I also wonder what it would’ve been like if Hae had been white. Interestingly, it took place before 9/11, which made me wonder if things (not sure how they could’ve been, but they probably could’ve) could have been much worse for Adnan.
  • So, what will season two be? Will we continue with Adnan (for the record, I don’t think the serial killer theory will go anywhere. That serial killer seemed to be raping his victims, and Hae wasn’t raped. Also, why on earth would Jay have collaborated at all with Adnan if Hae had just been the victim of some random serial killer? The DNA evidence might, though). Will we continue with this case, or will we get a whole new case? I’m hoping for the latter, with updates on Adnan as they become available.

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