If you’ve been living under a rock, welcome back to aboveground living and head straight for your computer. A shower can wait. Your loved ones can wait. You need to listen to Serial right this second.
I’ll make things easy for all you rock-dwellers and give you a quick run-down. On the 13th of January 1999, 17-year-old high school senior Hae Min Lee went missing in Baltimore, Maryland. Her body was found approximately one month later and before long, her ex-boyfriend, 17-year-old Adnan Syed, was convicted of the murder and sentenced to life in prison. To this day, Syed maintains his innocence. One of his staunchest defenders, prominent social commentator and lawyer Rabia Chaudry, contacted This American Life producer Sarah Koenig and asked her to look into the case, and voila, ‘the greatest murder mystery you will ever hear’ (http://www.theguardian.com/media/2014/nov/08/serial-review-greatest-murder-mystery-ever-hear), was born in the form of a weekly podcast, Serial.
Serial isn’t just a murder mystery. If it was, it would be easy to file it away with all the Wives with Knives and Kids who Kill episodes I’ve devoured on the Crime Investigation channel. (And there have been a few, I assure you.) There is much to love about Serial’s whodunnit format, but the themes raised each and every episode are far more complex than that of whether Adnan actually killed Hae. The ones I find most compelling are as follows:
1.) Memory is the slipperiest, darndest thing
Recently, I was indulging in a bout of emo nostalgia (as you do when it’s 1am and you’ve had a bit too much coconut jelly). I decided to pick up one of the many diaries I kept as a teenager, expecting it to confirm my suspicion that life peaked at fourteen, but instead it was all doom and gloom and wondering when, if ever, trigonometry would cease to be the bane of my existence. This then begs the obvious question: can we really rely on our own recollection of events?
The short answer is, not really. Of course, our obsessive need to document our comings and goings on social media helps us to trace where and when we were at any given moment, but this murder was committed in 1999, long before Facebook and Instagram and Snapchat came to dominate our lives. Adnan says he just can’t remember exactly what he was doing on January 13, and I’m not convinced that this is in any way indicative of his guilt. If he is innocent, it really was just another ordinary day, which leads me onto my next point.
2.) Everyday life is repetitive is repetitive is repetitive
Adnan continually stresses, as does narrator Sarah Koenig, the apparent ordinariness of January 13, 1999. He went to school, went to track practice, smoked a bit of weed, possibly went to the library and probably went to the mosque at night. (It was Ramadan at the time.) Of course, if Adnan committed the murder, it would’ve made January 13 just a tad out of the ordinary, but if he didn’t, there’s absolutely no reason that he should remember precisely what he was up to.
Everyday life is just so samey. If someone asked me what I did three Mondays ago, I’d know that I went to work, but I really wouldn’t be able to say much more. What did I have for lunch? I have no idea. I probably ordered my favourite Macro Meal special from that annoyingly pricey, delicious vegetarian place, but I could’ve just as easily had some leftover falafel with pickles and garlic sauce. What did I do after work? I probably went to the gym, but it’s a distinct possibility that I decided to go home and watch Wives with Knives on the couch instead. Routine dulls the senses, dulls the memory and dulls the entire human race. One of my biggest fears is to wake up at 40 and not know how I’ve spent the past couple of decades except going to work, heating my leftovers in the work microwave and paying my phone bill. But I suppose it could be worse. I could wake up and find myself incarcerated for the duration of my adult life for a crime I didn’t commit. (That is, if he didn’t commit it, which we haven’t ascertained as of yet.)
3.) Love isn’t worth sneaking around/ lying to everyone you know/killing for
Of course, any sane human being will attest to the last point. You get dumped, punch a few pillows, consume copious amounts of peanut butter with your fingers, pray to Allah for some high-speed pain relief and then, you get over it, secure in the knowledge that no one is worth eating prison food for the rest of your life.
But the other points are more interesting, especially for the purposes of this blog. Adnan is Muslim and of Pakistani background, which the prosecution made a big song and dance over in their case against him. They claimed that because he went against his faith and his community to be with Hae, her subsequently dumping him was all the more enraging. They also claimed that the fact that he went to great lengths to keep the relationship hidden from his family and community indicated that he was a duplicitous, untrustworthy person.
Rabia Chaudry states quite accurately in her excellent Serial blogs (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/splitthemoon/) that hiding a relationship is the standard rather than the exception in many Muslim and immigrant communities. If I had a dollar for every story floating around about couples being ‘caught in the act’, I’d be wearing a solid gold hijab. But is any person worth the trouble of lying to your parents, whispering face-down into your pillow so your siblings don’t hear and concocting complex stories about how you missed your train and the three after that? For Adnan, it certainly wasn’t in more ways than one.
If I had to give my views on this case, I’d summarise them as such: legally not guilty, factually…well, I’m not so sure. I want to be Team Adnan. I really do. But I’m going to stick to being Team Serial for now.