I would like to use this opportunity to announce the first podcast offering from Foster Disbelief, “Spoiling the Serial Serial’s Serial,” in which I will recap and examine podcasts from Slate and The A.V. Club that deal with the This American Life’s offshoot podcast, Serial. If you are feeling enterprising, feel free to create a podcast that recaps my podcast recapping other peoples podcasts that recap the podcast Serial.
Okay, I am joking. I’m not really creating a podcast featuring the podcasts that feature the podcast sensation, Serial. I was downloading the latest episode of The Serial Serial, The A.V. Club’s podcast on Serial and the sheer lunacy of that action finally struck me. I am a podcast junkie, and I have no problem admitting that fact. In addition to the usual array of podcasts dealing with atheism, skepticism, science, and politics, I also listen to podcasts on sexuality (Savage Lovecast and Sex out loud) and an admittedly insane amount of podcasts dealing with A Song of Ice and Fire. (Perhaps I will review the ones that deal with the television show in advance of the upcoming fifth season of Game of Thrones.) When my niece told me about Serial then, it was a total no-brainer that I would be hooked instantly. (The real question is how the hell I missed out on Serial for so long. And in case anyone is wondering where I find the time, my job allows me to listen to podcasts during work.) Like anything I enjoy, I had to take it to the next level, so I found podcasts about Serial. The one produced by Slate has earned a rousing “meh” from me, and I just noticed the one from The A.V. Club and won’t get to listen to that until later today, but part of me is wondering if perhaps the reason I can’t get into Slate’s entry is that they are one step too far, in a very meta kind of way.
I understand the desire to analyze and talk about subjects we find fascinating. As I mentioned in regards to ASOIAF, I listen to many podcasts dealing with the world and characters created by George R. R. Martin, and it does not stop at podcasts. While I am not a fan-fiction writing or reading type of guy, I do read many sites that delve into the politics, the history, the religion, and the people and places of Westeros. Yet while I listen and read many people’s work about the series, I don’t read or listen to anything that critiques said analysis. That seems like a bridge too far. Which places podcasts about Serial in a very new and strange place.
Our society loves to talk about cultural touchstones. The internet gives us so many countless ways to do this that no longer involve the traditional water cooler, and we use it with forums, Tumblers, podcasts, blogs, tweets and whatever other methods we come up with. Be it Mad Men, Game of Thrones, True Detective, The Walking Dead, or Breaking Bad to name but a few, when media becomes a cultural phenomenon, people want to not only talk about it themselves, but they want to listen or read other people talking about it. Hence Talking Dead, and the countless number of podcasts dealing with each of the shows on my list. With Serial becoming yet another cultural phenomenon, it was only natural for blogs and podcasts about it to spring up; I’d have been shocked if there were no podcasts about Serial.
But Serial is itself a podcast. Its format is different than most that came before it, and its story is fascinating, but it is still a podcast, not a television show, book, or movie. It is also a real story featuring real flesh and blood human beings as characters. This severely limits the podcasts analyzing it. While podcasters dealing with Game of Thrones have free reign to critique each character in the series, from multiple angles, including how they changed moving from page to screen, the “characters” in Serial are not only real people, but real people without the gulf of time separating them from the present day that frees us when talking about historical figures. Serial has ethical concerns that most cultural phenomenons never have to deal with, and in turn, podcasts dealing with Serial share those concerns. I can quite flippantly declare that Ramsey Bolton (formerly Snow) is a sadistic misogynistic murderer. However, anything I would want to say about Jay would have to be weighed carefully and worded so as to protect myself from claims of defamation.
Because of this, most of the critiques I hear during Slate’s spoiler podcast about Serial deals with either the way Sarah Koenig decided to present the information to us, and in what order, or the inherent biases, conscious or not, Sarah Koenig brings to the cast and how they affect the story. Or as I put it earlier, “meh.”
Don’t get me wrong. I will be listening to The Serial Serial by The A.V. Club later today. Perhaps I will love it, perhaps it will illicit another “meh.” But perhaps this is honestly a bit too meta. Perhaps podcasts recapping a podcast that is telling a true, recent story is just a bit over the line.
Or perhaps someone will take my podcast idea and run with it, and this time next month we will be working several layers deep, with a podcast about a podcast dealing with a podcast based on a podcast recapping a podcast detailing a podcast featuring a podcast that gathers and examines the podcasts that talk about the podcast Serial.
If so, at least give me credit.