Not Problematic: In Defense of ‘Serial’


Lindsay Beyerstein in the New York Observer:

You’d think This American Life’s true crime podcast, Serial, would be a show you could enjoy with a clear conscience. It’s exhaustively reported, skillfully produced, and engaging to the point of being addictive — the Wall Street Journal just called it a “global phenomenon.”

What’s more, Serial might end up exposing a real-life miscarriage of justice. Even if host Sarah Koenig doesn’t manage to exonerate Adnan Syed for the 1999 murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee, she has already made a convincing case that prosecutors used anti-Muslim stereotypes to bolster their weak case against Syed.

So, why is there a cottage industry of think pieces dedicated to making us feel guilty about liking Serial?

Because it’s “problematic” and its host is “privileged.”

Jay Caspian Kang leads the “privilege” charge against Ms. Koenig in the Awl. He claims to have no problem in principle with a white reporter covering communities of color, but he thinks Koenig is doing it wrong.

Mr. Kang, who just joined the New York Times Magazine as a contributor, offers this snippet of Koenig’s dialogue as proof of her egregious white privilege: “[Hae's] diary, by the way—well I’m not exactly sure what I expected her diary to be like but—it’s such a teenage girls diary.”

Mr. Kang jumps to the conclusion that Koenig expected Hae’s diary to be different because she was Korean. Cue self-righteous indignation: “Wait, what did you expect her diary to be like?” or “Why do you feel the need to point out that a Korean teenage girl’s diary is just like a teenage girl’s diary?” and perhaps, most importantly, “Where does your model for ‘such a teenage girl’s diary’ come from?”

There’s nothing in Serial that suggests that Ms. Koenig’s mild surprise at Hae’s boy-crazy diary stems from any assumption about what Korean people’s diaries are like. Absolutely nothing. It’s a total non sequitur.

More here.