A couple of weeks ago, my consumer seminar teacher walked in the classroom raving about a podcast called Serial that she had just started listening to. I thought it was a little odd that she was listening to one, since I couldn't remember the last time I had heard of anyone listening to a podcast. The week after, at least three students in the class mentioned that they had started listening to the podcast as well and had immediately become obsessed with it. When I researched this further, I found that each episode of Serial has over 2.2 million listeners. Now I was intrigued; what is this podcast? And why does it attract so many viewers?
Serial is a non-fiction story that has released one episode per week since October, produced by the public radio show This American Life. The podcast follows the story of reporter Sarah Koenig's year-long investigation into a 1999 murder case of former high-schooler Hai Min Lee. Koenig revisits the case, talking to family, friends and Adnan Syed, the man found guilty of the murder (Lee's high school boyfriend). The podcast has been surprisingly successful, which brings me back to my previous question: why are Americans so obsessed with this murder case?
The article states that the podcast may have such high ratings for many reasons, but one main reason is that listeners want to know if Syed is guilty or not guilty. The story is also non-fiction, which adds to the attraction, and you can download and listen to it whenever you please. In today's world, accessibility is key. I think another main reason is the fact that it's about a murder. As Americans, we are infatuated with crime television shows. In addition to it dominating the news programs, television seems to be flooded by shows like Law & Order and too many CSI's to count. In fact, 42% of jobs on network television dramas are related to crime and punishment. Is the podcast so popular right now because of our criminal obsession? Will it be as successful next year if it's not about murder? In my opinion, I don't think it will be as popular next year if it's not about a murder. I think viewers would not be as interested in the story without knowing it involves someone dying or going to jail.
I also wondered about the style of the storytelling, and if that had any impact on the popularity. As I mentioned before, a new episode is released once a week, and Koenig chooses to release certain information each episode. She wants to make sure viewers keep coming back to listen to her story. "Koenig is not just a journalist trying to get to the heart of a story — she is every one of us listeners at home." I find this really interesting because although I have not listened to the podcast (yet), it explains how great of a story teller she is. She is a journalist, but she appeals to viewers, and makes viewers identify with her. The more we like the storyteller, the more likely we are going to listen.
There seems to be a combination of factors that make this podcast be the "it" show of this year. The intrigue of a non-fiction crime, the popularity and convenience of the podcast, and the exciting story telling of the narrator all make for a riveting show. However, I think our society's morbid fascination with murder is a little frightening.