Academics Try to Interpret ‘Serial’ Podcast

, Spencer Irvine, Leave a comment

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After the widespread and unexpected popularity of the ‘Serial’ podcast, where a team of journalists review an old criminal case and interview the imprisoned suspect and other witnesses, academics are wondering whether they could use this medium to spread their own stories.

In a panel session at the Modern Language Association’s annual convention, which was held in Austin, Texas this year, Erica Haugtvedt (a senior lecturer in English at Ohio State University) compared the storytelling of the Serial team to Victorian England’s storytelling in newspaper columns.

As with Victorian England’s newspaper audience, consumers of Serial’s podcasts are voracious and want more information, no matter the medium. Also, “audiences must inform themselves regularly” of the issues being discussed in order to fully delve into the subject matter. Yet, Serial did what few other podcasts could do by “[producing] a sense of intimacy” that is hard to replicate.

However, she noted that “standards of privacy are not shared by the audience” of Serial. A key witness named Jay said he has been harassed for his testimony in the case.

During the session, the speaker used the word “seriality,” which one Benedict Anderson defined as “a social construct which differs from a mere group of individuals.” In other words, it is the acceptance of labels that bind a group of individuals together.

Photo by cfiesler