Over/Underrated 2014 – Part Ten

12 Jan

On Pointe



2014…also known as the year public radio went viral.

Before I really get into the meat of discussing Serial, I’d just like to point out the irony of its popularity, not because of its content (because it’s no secret that Americans are weirdly obsessed with crime stories in general, and murder stories in particular), but because of it’s delivery method. It’s a podcast. Which is essentially the modern day equivalent to tuning in to Abbott and Costello circa 1942. I just think it’s interesting that as much technology changes, some things stay the same. Serial consumed a two week period of my life. And during that time I wasn’t dying to get home to my 3D, Smell-O-Vision TV, I was dying to plug in my headphones and listen to, not watch, Sarah Koenig dissect the story of Hae, Adnan, and Jay.

But I digress.

Look at any primetime TV lineup, and it becomes instantly evident that homicide is the main source of entertainment for a lot of people, the grislier the better, and if it’s true crime, we’re all basically salivating like Pavlov’s dogs. It’s no surprise, then, that Serial became as popular as it did.

Serial tells the story of the murder of Hae Min Lee, a Baltimore-area high school student murdered in 1999, and Adnan Syed, Lee’s ex-boyfriend, who was convicted of her murder and is currently serving a life sentence in a Maryland prison.

To say that I was/currently am obsessed with Serial is an understatement. I spent every second I could in the last two weeks of 2014 listening to the podcast and reading blogs, interviews, and articles about the podcast. And I am, like the other five million weekly listeners, still no closer to cracking this case.

On it’s face, the murder of Lee isn’t particularly fascinating or interesting. There was no charismatic cult leader convincing his followers that killing people was necessary for his grand vision of the world. There was no cannibal hiding bodies in his freezer. There was only a missing girl, an ex-boyfriend, and a kid who knew more than he was letting on.

I don’t want to delve too much into detail about Serial for a couple reasons: 1) Spoilers, duh, and 2) if you haven’t listened, the details will bore or confuse you, because there are A LOT of them. But trust me. You should listen. Immediately.

Sarah Koenig does a really good job weaving together 15-year-old narratives into an enthralling story. She also does a good job fairly representing the key players, even the ones who refused to talk to her, especially the ones who claimed she “demonized” them. She even presents information in a very specific order so the audience really feels like they’re working out the case along side her. However, she inserts herself into the story a bit too much for this to be called documentary or journalism, but to be fair, she calls it storytelling.

I hoped when I started listening to Serial that by the end there would be a very clear conclusion. Either Adnan is guilty and rotting where he belongs, or he’s innocent and has been unjustly imprisoned for almost half his life

Sadly this case isn’t so cut and dry (which is what makes it so interesting), but it’s my personal opinion that, regardless of Adnan’s guilt, he has been wrongly imprisoned. There is reasonable doubt the size of Mount Everest in this case. And if the jury’s job is to convict beyond a reasonable doubt, they failed.

There is supposed to be a presumption of innocence until proven guilty in this country, but in the court of public opinion, one is guilty until proven innocent. That seems to be what happened to Adnan. And I’d like to think that beyond this macabre fascination with death, that’s why people are so invested in his story and the injustice of it all, there’s no way to know for sure what happened that fateful January day.

I am not saying Adnan is innocent. Anyone who can proselytize on his innocence or guilt is exceedingly arrogant. I’m saying I don’t think he got a fair trial, and I don’t think the prosecution proved his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Based on that, the jury shouldn’t have convicted him. You know, “If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.”

Put another way, Casey Anthony was found not guilty in 2011 of murdering her daughter Caylee, and there were mountains more of incriminating evidence against her. How about George Zimmerman found not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin, even though we know for sure it was Zimmerman who pulled the trigger, a smoking gun, so to speak, that does not exist in Adnan’s case.

What Serial does best of all is remind us that in real life, cases don’t often get the CSI treatment. They’re not always tied up in pretty, unimpeachable bows, and that’s why it’s worth listening to. This case in particular is messy, not as simple as it seems on its face, and fraught with human error, both intentional and unintentional.

I cannot even imagine how painful it was for the people involved to have Koenig dredge up this old case, and have them hash out what happened a decade-and-a-half after the fact, but that’s a small price to pay if the wrong man is sitting in prison. And Serial presents a pretty convincing argument that that could be what happened.


Off the Mark

“The Hanging Tree” Dance Remix


Before I start ranting, let me get one thing I straight. I love Jennifer Lawrence (see last year’s ode here). I think she’s a fantastic actress, and it didn’t surprise me a bit to find out that she’s not a half-bad singer either.

The scene in Mockingjay Part One when she sings “The Hanging Tree” is a poignant one. Lawrence’s character, Katniss Everdeen, sings it while staring at the remnants of what was once her home. Seeing the bombed wreckage of District 12 is what ultimately prompts Katniss to agree to become the symbol of the revolution, and her caught-on-camera singing becomes a rallying cry for rebels across Panem.

Readers of Suzanne Collins’ Mockingjay novel know that the song itself has a weighty backstory. Singing in general is an emotional trigger for Katniss because it reminds her of her father. “The Hanging Tree” in particular she remembers because her mother forbade her from singing it  due to its morbid lyrics in which a hung murderer waits for his love to join him in death.

In the movie, the song is sung a beautiful a capella dirge, a haunting song for the fallen.

How, then, does a song about death sung for the dead become a dance remix?

Michael Gazzo, DJ and producer of the dance remix, told Yahoo, “My take on ‘Hanging Tree’ is much lighter, and listener friendly. Although the nature of the track is dark, I envisioned it uplifting an entire group of people to rise up. To unite.”

While it’s true that the song does become a battle cry for the people of Panem in both book and film, I am quite positive that the revolutionaries were too busy fighting to overthrow their oppressors to dance.

Dancing seems to be something plenty of Americans have time for, however, because the dance remix of “Hanging Tree” debuted at number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100.

As pleased as I am to hear JLaw on the radio (like I said, I love her), as a fan of the Hunger Games series the dance remix is simply not something I can get on board with. Katniss singing “The Hanging Tree” was a spontaneous occurrence fueled by nothing but passion for all that has been and would be lost in a desperate war against the Capitol. It was a raw moment, never intended to be post-processed and overlaid with a thumping dance beat.

Somehow, I think Katniss would agree with me.

hanging tree


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