Happy New Year. Like everyone else I know who has their priorities straight, I have dedicated the better part of the last few months swirling in the vortex of the Serial Podcast and all of the auxiliary texts that a truly dedicated listener must read.
I am trying not to make an idol of this podcast but I really believe it is the most salient commentary of what it means to be an American right now. You have a thoughtful examination of the experience of first/second/third generation children of immigrants. You have a masterful showcase of investigative journalism, something I have studied and taught for most of my adult life. You have a very circumspect dissection of our American justice system, how it seeks so hard to leverage evidence against prejudice but how the psychology of criminology sometimes interrupts that tidy process. Haha. Because it’s not tidy to begin with. You even have a little petri dish of social media engagement on the subreddit, and we simmer over issues of private individuals, public figures trying to understand the conviction of Adnan Syed as well as the underpinnings of our First Amendment rights.
All of this has been said and written before by people much more eloquent, knowledgable than I.
[tweet bird=”yes”]Here are 3 illuminations I’ve had from the Serial Podcast:[/tweet]
1. Our characters are our most important legacies. Maintaining consistency of good character is possibly the most important favor we can do for ourselves. Witnesses are so important in criminal cases and people who can speak specifically to demonstrations of our character are clutch. Not just people who can surmise what we might have been feeling, but people who can say, “I never saw him pissed off” or “He lied all.the.time.” The characters of Adnan and Jay, as manifested in the late 90s, are practically cryogenically frozen for all to exhume. I can’t help but ponder how Adnan eventually told his mom how he stole from the mosque. His mom, whom he apparently feared more than God. He told her he stole from the mosque. How would he keep lying to police about murdering Hae if he was, at a very tender age, able to come clean about pilfering from the collection basket at the mosque?
2. Small towns are not equatable with immigrant communities. For the most part, I think Sarah Koenig gets it right about the pressures Hae Min and Adnan faced as children of immigrants whose parents obviously wanted them to eventually marry people of their same ethnicity and/or religious background. They kept their relationship on the down-low. They understood the ramifications of their parents finding out. They both lived dual lives, as many children of immigrants do, language and cultural barriers forever pushing apart parents who are assimilating and children who grow up adapting.
But there’s a part where Sarah Koenig is trying to show compassion for the rumor mill that Adnan Syed’s parents were caught up in post the arrest of their son. She tries to commisserate: I get it. I’m from a small town, she says. I couldn’t help but think that was total arrogance of sympathy. Small town life, which I am now living, is hard. The insularity of it, the steady stream of gossip, the code of having to always invite everyone to everything. However, the gaping chasm between small town life and immigrant community is the inherent competition. Immigrants are scraping to make it, and when they do, they either feel indebted to those who’ve helped them survive and succeed or to help others do the same. Their children are their trophies, the prizes that they hold out front. See my son getting into college? See my daughter making the varsity team? All that was worth it, all the sacrifice and the pain of separation and overcoming the awkwardness of never fully understanding or fitting in–we did it for our children so that they could have a better life. And when that plan does not work out, when all that sacrifice does not seem worth it, the judgment of a whole community can really strangle a person. You don’t always get that from a small town. You don’t always get that same, “HA! You lost and we won!” from small town neighbors. Usually you have more charity, because not everyone starts out on the same footing. Not everyone is trying to overcome the same hurdles such as with a circle of immigrants.
This leads me to my final point, which is something that my husband, the firstborn son of Korean immigrants (who is equally obsessed with Serial) to the U.S. noted.
3. There hasn’t been much talk about honoring parents when it comes to Adnan and Jay’s confessions. Jay lived with his grandmother during the time of Hae’s murder. We can presume that he probably was not afraid of disparaging his parents by confessing to police about his involvement in burying Hae. But Adnan lived in fear of his parents finding out: that he dated seriously a Korean girl. That he merely had a cellphone. That he may know something about her murder. He can maintain his innocence in prison and maybe it’s because he’s truly innocent. But what if all this started because he was trying to protect his family? The concept of honoring parents is often murky in American culture. We prize individualism. Rarely have I heard someone say, “His obedience to his parents is so tremendous! He really will go far in life because he does exactly what his parents ask of him!” American books, films, they all root for the person who dares to go rogue. Whereas Adnan was forever caught between wanting to follow his heart and be an upstanding son to his parents, an honorable big brother to his little brother. For me, this is what separates Adnan’s case from others where motives really center on the romantic relationship gone awry. To me, Adnan’s allegiance here is less to himself and more to his family. I believe it is entirely possible that he is innocent and didn’t even know a thing about Hae’s murder. But I also believe that protecting his family can also justify his maintaining innocence.
What about you? What have you learned from Serial?
*images courtesy Serial Podcast blog.