January 13, 2016

Trouble in "Serial" land?

The prodigious podcast is suddenly switching to every other week — apparently so they can absorb all the criticism, do more research, procure more interviews, and tweak the script in the story of Bowe Bergdahl:
“There are more paths we need to go down,” [said executive producer Julie Snyder.] “Since we started broadcasting the show, we have gotten more people willing to talk, and because of that, it has opened up more avenues of reporting.” She declined to comment on whom those interviews were with, or what additional reporting the show needed to pursue. “We have narrative developments,” she said. “I hesitate on calling them news developments.”
There's also the fact that the show is not doing as well as the last season, the one about an imprisoned man and a murder we'd never heard of. Shifting to Bergdahl is telling us about somebody we already knew and had already, perhaps, processed into a kind of oblivion. Did we really want to pull him back into our attention and, week by week, hour by hour, take some differing complicated perspectives on him?

The characters in both seasons are mysterious men. We can wonder who is this guy? But in season 1, there was the solidity of knowing a young woman really was murdered and a young man really was suffering the punishment, and the mystery was whether he's the murderer. In season 2, we know the external reality of what the man did. That part is solid. The mystery lies in why he did it and what it meant to him. He's not been punished yet (though we might decide his suffering in captivity was punishment enough, so let's leave him alone). It lies in the future, what the legal process will give him. His mental state will play some part in that determination. But we'll see that unfold in the news as his trial proceeds.

Why would we want the alternative viewings of the mind of Bergdahl as managed and manipulated by the "Serial" crowd? I think the answer should be: Because there's a fascinating, delicate art to the the "Serial" presentation. But when art is about real-life facts subject to dispute, especially about current events, there's a lot of static between you and the artist. It can make you want to turn the dial to another channel.

ADDED: Saying that about art made me think about this, a quote from David Bowie that I'd read earlier this morning on Facebook. You can see that I commented over there, linking to the comments section of an old post of mine in which my ex-husband quoted Oscar Wilde: "Views are held by those who are not artists." That old post, by the way, links to 2 other posts, one of which quotes me quoting myself in my own comments section — recursive enough for you? — saying something about Bob Dylan that caused an uproar back in 2005: "To be a great artist is inherently right wing...." Lots of my current husband in the comments there, 4 years before I met him, talking about Bob Dylan, saying things like: "I thought Ann's quote was very smart - nearly brilliant" and "Seriously, with her aversion to politics and her ability to tweak the self-satisfaction and dogmatism of diverse groups, don't you agree that AA just might be the '66 Dylan of this new blogging medium, albeit sober? She is clearly an inspired artist hitting her stride."

22 comments:

mccullough said...

They are flailing

Laslo Spatula said...

People like to play detective.

Look at the various websites for the Zodiac Killer (never found), Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald (question of guilt); the sites of amateur sleuths attempting to identify victims of cold cases -- there is a fascination among many that you may be the one who puts it together (at least to your satisfaction, if not the authorities).

That came into play in the first 'Serial', but has nothing to do with the second.

Crossword puzzles.

I am not the Zodiac Killer:

I am Laslo.

TA said...

This is just a compliment. This post is just really smart. The preceding one (yam dumplings) is a lovely little piece of writing. That's why I read this blog. Never disappointed.

Deirdre Mundy said...

So, was that fateful day the day that Meade said "By Jove, I'm going to marry that girl some day!" ?

David Begley said...

So that's how Meade won over Althouse. Dylan of the blogosphere.

Terry said...

Some guys will say anything to get close to a hot chick. If you believe it when you say it, it's sincere. Or it's a kind of sincerity.

Unknown said...

The murder mystery aspects are gone, and those continue to sell in other venues (HBO's The Jinx, and Netflix's Making of a Murder)

But Serial has loftier goals than just focusing on the wildly sensational. It's ambition is to be about longer detailed analysis of complex stories. They had to get away from just the crime beat (they can always return to it, they just won't be defined by it) That will lead to some of the buzz of the first season fading quicker, but could mean a more sustainable program in the long haul.

Going bi-weekly, and it seems ADDING episodes, they are showing a seriousness to the work, embracing the flexibility of the podcast format, while making the broadcast form a more difficult. (what are the public radio stations going to broadcast during the off-weeks?)

This will hurt the radio listening numbers, but subscribers to the podcast, not so much.

Meade said...

I was so much fanboy then
More sober than that now

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Ann Althouse said..But when art is about real-life facts subject to dispute, especially about current events, there's a lot of static between you and the artist. It can make you want to turn the dial to another channel.

It SHOULD create a lot of static, I agree, but if you look at the enthusiastic response to the "art" of Making a Murder it sure seems more like lots of people are happy to accept the artists POV uncritically and let that persuade (or, if you like manipulate) their opinions and feelings.
The disconnect for me is in treating real people/situations in this "artistic" manner and then seemingly failing to recognize that it's "art." If the subject were fiction, you know that's a different story.

khesanh0802 said...

Perhaps the audience has concluded that regardless of "motivation" Bergdahl is guilty of one of the most serious crimes ( and moral failings) a soldier can commit. I certainly don't give a damn what his motivation was. He deserted his post, endangered his fellow soldiers then, and later was the cause of the death of several more. I don't give two hoots whether he was uncomfortable in captivity, or for how long. There is nothing anyone at " serial" can do to change my mind and I am sure there are many others like me. Try as they might Serial will not be able to make Bergdahl into a victim and that seems to me the point of these shows.

Laslo Spatula said...

According to the Telegraph, Dylan attended the 10-year reunion for Hibbing High’s Class of 1959 on Aug. 2, 1969, returning to his hometown of Hibbing, Minn., to gather with his former fellow students at the local Moose Lodge...

Barbara Jean Paciotti:
Missing since June 14, 1969 from Hibbing, St. Louis County, Minnesota.

There is no record of his ever having visited again, although some suspect he may have quietly slipped through once or twice...

Hmmm. Dylan possibly slipping into his Hometown on June 14th of that year, perhaps?

I am Laslo.

Michael K said...

The first thing to know about Bergdahl is that the US Coast Guard kicked him out in basic training. I would hate to be the Army doctor who certified him as "qualified" for Army enlistment. I would hate even more to be the full time Army doc who waived the psychiatric requirements to allow him to enlist. The Army has gotten much more interested in psychiatric issues since Bergdahl. It was a disaster.

Bill said...

recursive enough for you?

Like a literary Matryoskha doll!

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

I love longform radio stories (have listened to every single TAL for example) and enjoyed the thoroughness of season one of Serial. I was very skeptical of the choice of the Bergdahl case, however, because it has already received so much attention and I expected it to be pre-NPRized.

Related: I used to love the Stuff You Missed in History podcast, but I had to reluctantly abandon it when they switched [I MISS YOU SARAH AND DEBLINA!! COME BACK!!!!!!] to a new set of hosts. The new ones [Tracy and Holly] were already dipped in an unfortunate coating of Howard Zinn, revisionist, grievance studies worldview that was impossible to stomach. Like the two parter on the first black railroad conductor--I mean, who gives a rip? The choice of topics was pulled to "biography of first ______ to ________ " and then the style of research and delivery was relentlessly revisionist. Plus they have horrible radio voices, as opposed to the dulcet tones and lovely enunciation of particularly Sarah, but also Deblina.

I usually trust the TAL crowd, but Bergdahl is such a political topic I wasn't sure they wouldn't handle it in a way that wouldn't annoy me. I wonder if others, even the probably reliably leftist podcast crowd, didn't have a similar response. I think they should avoid topics in the future that Obama has been anywhere near. :)

I'm still downloading all the episodes, but I'll wait and binge listen, if it's listenable, when the whole season is in the can, as I did with season 1.

tim maguire said...

Bergdhal falls into one of those areas where we're too cynical to just listen to their best efforts. We don't believe justice will prevail over politics, we don't believe journalists will be scrupulously fair and thorough when they have a Democratic president to protect and a narrative to support. Why should we be expected to give so much of our time to people we don't believe will do the job we want them to do?

Thorley Winston said...

I agree with khesanh0802 - Bergdahl’s guilt isn’t in question, only the level of it. Any excuses he tries to concoct after the fact have zero interest to me.

PJ57 said...

When is Meade going to publish more dog pictures????

Widmerpool said...

Also agree with khesanh802. In the first episode, Bergdahl trotted out his reasons for bugging out - wanted to bring attention to how the guys were being led or treated or something. Either hogwash or ridiculous - take your pick. This was left unexplored by Serial. So they know it's hogwash or ridiculous as well. So what's left? The guy has absolutely no justification for doing what he did. So who cares?

Ann Althouse said...

Thanks, TA!

Ann Althouse said...

"When is Meade going to publish more dog pictures????"

I read that out loud and Meade said: "That's what they say to Bob Dylan. When are you going to write 'Blowin' in the Wind' again?"

NorthOfTheOneOhOne said...

Widmerpool said...
Also agree with khesanh802. In the first episode, Bergdahl trotted out his reasons for bugging out - wanted to bring attention to how the guys were being led or treated or something. Either hogwash or ridiculous - take your pick. This was left unexplored by Serial. So they know it's hogwash or ridiculous as well. So what's left? The guy has absolutely no justification for doing what he did. So who cares?

Not only that but Bergdahl admitted during the first episode that what he did was a "bonehead move". Kind of hard to martyr someone (which I think Serial wants to do) when they admit their guilt.

Unknown said...

It's always interesting to go back and look at old pictures, but even more interesting when you go back and see someone you didn't know at the time in the same place as you.

I would think it must be a delight to go back to your comments and find Meade there before you really knew each other. What fun!