[Content Note: Violence; death; issues of consent and ethics.]

Serial is a podcast, one of the most popular podcasts of all time, hosted by reporter Sarah Koenig, who is investigating the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee, whose ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, is serving a life sentence for the crime. Koenig started her investigation last year, after one of Syed's friends reached out to her asking for help. The podcast, which is a spinoff of This American Life, documents the investigation and began earlier this year. Eleven episodes have aired in weekly downloads; the twelfth and concluding episode will be available tomorrow.

I've gotten a bunch of emails asking for my opinion about Serial. Over the past few days, I've been listening to it—I just finished Episode Six—trying to get caught up before the finale.

The first time I ever heard about it was when I read a piece by Jessica Goldstein: "The Complicated Ethics of 'Serial,' The Most Popular Podcast of All Time." And I strongly recommend that piece, because it brings up a lot of the problems I have with Serial—or, at least, the questions I have about it.

From an entertainment perspective, Serial is terrific. It's well put together, and it's utterly appealing to someone like me, who loves true crime stuff.

But the thing about true crime stuff is that it's true. There are real people involved, some of whom aren't even offered the chance to consent. Often, in true crime storytelling, a chance to participate is equated with a chance to consent: These are not the same things. You can decline to participate, but that story's getting told with or without your input.

At least as far as I've listened, Koenig has never addressed whether she sought the consent or participation of Hae Min Lee's family—and, based on her brother's public statements (see Goldstein's piece), it doesn't appear like she did. (Besides possibly one ignored Facebook message.) Her parents, according to her brother, don't even know about it.

That said, if an innocent person is sentenced to life behind bars, for a murder zie didn't commit, should hir potential exoneration be contingent on the consent of the victim's family, who might reasonably believe in hir guilt, based on hir conviction?

But in Serial, we don't know if Adnan Syed is not guilty of the murder of Hae Min Lee. That is ostensibly what the investigation is intended to uncover.

I have a lot of thoughts about Serial, and its ethics, which has less to do with the investigation itself than the way it's being presented. And many of those thoughts won't be solidified until the series reaches its conclusion.

Which brings up a whole other set of questions for me, largely around whether the end can justify the means.

Serial has already been greenlit for a second season. And, I have to be honest, I have a ton of reservations around trying to recreate this process, this search for justice presented as entertainment. Because even if nothing goes horribly ethically wrong in this series, it's only a matter of time before it does. It skates on an edge too thin to sustain its weight forever.

Anyway. Here is a thread to discuss Serial, before tomorrow's conclusion.

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