Using “Serial” To Explore Whether The Law Is Truly Objective

Podcasts, primetime dramas, and even the mountains help explore whether or not justice is truly blind.

image via youtube screen capture

Here’s an idea...

If you’re familiar with PBS’ Idea Channel and its mercurial host Mike Rugnetta, you know that after those introductory words, you’re likely to have your head filled with nearly as much critical theory, philosophy, and sociological analysis as most college freshmen get (or at least, retain) in an entire semester.

In its latest episode Idea Channel sets its sights on Serial, the uber-mega-gargantuan smash hit podcast, in which journalist Sarah Koenig explores the 1999 murder of Hae Min Lee, and the subsequent arrest and conviction of Adnan Syed for the crime. But rather than delve into the specifics of the case, or contest Adnan’s guilt, Rugnetta uses Serial as a jumping off point to explore broader questions at play. As he explains in this episode, the intense debate around the podcast and its subjects:

“...bumps into two other tensions of which Serial is maybe a symptom, or maybe of which Serial takes knowing advantage. Specifically the tension that arises from the expectation that both the law, and journalism be, or attempt to be, ‘objective’”

Rugnetta has a point. Certainly Serial’s exploration of a shocking crime isn’t, in and of itself, something altogether new. Television shows, magazines, and even other radio broadcasts have focused on true crime stories for decades. But Serial, whether by virtue of its production, medium, or simply the quality of its storytelling, has tapped into something else. And if we’re to understand what it is that makes Serial so compelling, we should start by understanding our own expectations of law, justice, and order – not simply because it will help with our cognitive digestion of a popular podcast, but because it will help explain the world in which we all live.


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