Serial (2014)

Serial (2014) podcast produced and reported by Sarah Koenig shares some of the same metanarrative qualities that Christopher Nolan’s films possess. Season one of Serial (2014) is about the trial against Adnan Syed for the murder of his high school girlfriend Hae Min Lee. Since the murder, Adnan Syed has been in prison serving a life-long sentence while he claims to be innocent. Sarah Koenig gives Adnan a platform on which to share his side of the story while also investigating some of his claims. Serial (2014) uses metanarrative by presenting multiple perspectives of the same set of events allowing the audience to come along with Koenig as she gathers all of the information on the case in the search for truth. Sarah Larson says in her article, “What ‘Serial’ Really Taught Us,” that, “It provided listeners with the voices of the many people involved with the case, detailing accounts, ideas, memories. It made good-faith efforts to solve the dozens of small mysteries that were part of the big mystery—where people were on January 13, 1999, and what they were doing; whether there was a pay phone at a certain Best Buy; the implications of events at high-school dances. We felt like we were listening to a story, an entertainment, but in truth what we were listening to was much bigger than that.”  The audience not only gets to hear from Adnan himself but also from witnesses used and not used during the trial and the audience gets to be fully engaged in Koenig’s investigative process. The audience becomes participants in the search for truth just as Koenig is and develops a deep relationship to the podcasts and its progression.

Louise Kiernan relays a statement from Sarah Koenig in her article, “Serial’ Podcast Producers Talk Storytelling, Structure and If They Know Whodunnit,” saying, “Koenig states, “We really felt that realization of things changing as you find out more. So that was what we were looking at as a model. What really appealed to us about the serialized format when Sarah first proposed it was that you could also do stories as they’re unfolding.” This quote shows that it was intentional to incorporate the audience engagement by allowing listeners to find information out as the investigators of the podcast did. Audience engagement was essential to the success of Serial (2014), so Koenig adopted the metanarrative technique of timeline manipulation and allowed for there to be jumps back and forth in the timeline to adequately gain every piece of information necessary to ascertain if Adnan deserved a retrial. 

Click the Polaroid to listen to season one of Serial (2014).

Season two of Serial (2015) uses the same methods of audience engagement to gain traction among listeners. Season two follows the story of the trail against Bowe Bergdahl, formerly a part of the US army, who was put on trial after returning home from capture by a terrorist group. Sarah Koenig once again gives the accused a platform to speak on by allowing Bergdahl to speak his truth on the air and allowing the audience to hear his testimony while comparing it to the other information Koenig brings forth. 

The final metanarrative aspect of Serial (2014 and 2015) that made the podcast, so success was the overarching theme of the search for truth which was also present in Memento (2000) and Inception (2010). “Metanarrative and Metafiction in ‘Serial’ Podcast,” and article by Tiffany Davis says, “The “truth” of a narrator or narration is one of the key elements of metanarrative. Often times the unreliability to trust a narrator is part of a metanarrative piece, and can be seen in Koenig’s narrative evolution throughout Serial (2014).” The viewers participation lies solely in their own search for the truth of Adnan’s case which means they are constantly taking in the information being given to them as well as examining who that information is coming from. The debate over Sarah Koenig’s ability to remain unbiased was another dimension of the podcast that kept so many people interested. The question of was Adnan truly innocent or was the narrator just presenting the information in that way remained a subconscious thought throughout the series. This same search for truth was present in season two of Serial (2015).

Click the Polaroid to listen to season two of Serial (2015).

In conclusion, Serial (2014)uses a multitude of metanarrative techniques to gain higher levels of audience engagement much like Christopher Nolan’s films. The use of metanarrative is seen in the search for truth, the presentation of multiple perspectives, and the manipulation of timelines. The narrative unfolds naturally in both seasons much like if a friend were relaying a story to someone and forgot previous pieces of information and slipped them in later. These techniques gained listener participation and aided in the overall success of the Serial (2014) podcast.

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