pete rorabaugh

father | atlantan | cyclist | educator | scholar | union member

Conversations on the Serial Podcast: Three

The episodes of Serial continue to get crunchy with metanarrative detail. By that I mean that the podcast serves as a catalyst for other narrative strands. Reddit, Twitter, WordPress,  Split the Moon (Rabia Chaudry’s blog), and Slate’s “Serial Spoiler Special” podcast (begun the same week that our Conversations did), along with dozens of media reviews of the the project —  all of these provide regular outlets for dynamic discussion. Like a Choose Your Own Adventure novel that sends you off to systems of other novels, Serial inspires further reflection and creation. Consider how “How People Obsess Over Serial” by Sal Gentile and John Purcell, could be viewed as a comedic attempt to probe the same issue I’m exploring in a much more eggheaded way — metanarrative.

I’ve mentioned it before here, but since Serial started, I’ve often thought about a foundational essay I read in grad school, Hayden White’s “The Value of Narrativity and the Representation of Reality” (published WAY back in 1980). White unpacks the idea that a stories are how we transmit history, that they represent the most mature and complex way of historical representation, but that no story can escape the presence of a privileged, subjective orientation. He writes:

What is involved, then, in that finding of the “true story,” that discovery of the “real story” within or behind the events that come to us in the chatoic form of “historical records”? What wish is enacted, what desire is gratified, by the fantasy that real events are properly represented when they can be shown to display the formal coherency of a story? In the enigma of this wish, this desire, we catch a glimpse of the cultural function of narrativizing discourse in general, an intimation of the psychological impulse behind the apparently universal need not only to narrate but to give to events an aspect of narrativity.

White is talking about “historiography,” or the process by which events, facts, and details get folded into what we call history. Remember that history book that you read in 12th grade? The decades’ worth of arguing, political sensitivity, shifting cultural attitudes, elections, laws, and authorial decisions about what to include and not include — THAT’s historiography. Someone will say, “Pete, you’re only interested in things that are meditations on other things. You’re all things ‘meta’” That may be so, but I find that the “true story” and what we think of as “history” are so obviously products of less clear, conflicting agendas, accidents, and attitudes, and those are the things that I want to understand. In terms of Serial, I want to look at the molten magma of the story before it cools into igneous rock, and pay attention to places where the narrative threads are interacting with each other.

Saad is also joining us today. I haven’t drafted out questions for the two them yet, but here are some:

  1. For Saad, can you talk about the Reddit community? What has it been like to engage with other people AND learn the platform at the same time?
  2. For Rabia, what is the potential trajectory of Adnan’s case being selected by the Innocence Project?
  3. For Saad, what are your interactions with Adnan like now? Do you sense any impact on him from knowing about the show?
  4. For both, how has involvement in the show impacted your life online?


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