Privilege and the Serial Podcast

(Rambling, Mucinex-induced, non-edited post ahead. Let’s hear it for germs!)

Like any good NPR-listening, white, liberal gal who lives in the Boston suburbs, I recently started listening to the true-crime podcast Serial. Sarah Koenig – who we’ve heard before on This American Life – is tackling one story all season long to figure out who’s telling the truth, and asking if the police, the lawyers, and the courts got it right.

There is so much about this story that’s compelling and interesting. Kids of immigrant parents, Baltimore in the late 1990s, high school romances, ex-boyfriends and ex-girlfriends, shady and cryptic characters, seemingly inept police and lawyers… I could go on and on…

But the thing that I can’t get out of my head, that has been bothering me SO MUCH about this, is that it seems that Koenig has gone about investigating this story without getting permission from the victim’s family to do so. In fact, in the episode released last week, Koenig goes on at some length about the efforts to which she went to try to get input from the victim’s family.

And let me tell you: those 30 seconds of the podcast were downright chilling. It starts about 35 minutes into this episode, and goes like this:

For many, many months, we tried to contact Hae’s family, to tell them we were doing this story and in hopes they might want to talk to us about Hae. In my twenty-plus years of reporting, I’ve never tried as hard to find anyone. Letters in English and Korean, phone calls, social media, friends of friends of friends, two private detectives, Korean-speaking researchers, people knocking on doors in three different states, calls to South Korea. We never heard back from them.

Do you know what that is in most places? Stalking. If anyone other than a white, female, journalist affiliated with NPR had admitted publicly to using all these methods of trying to get in touch with a family – WITH NO RESPONSE WHATSOEVER – the “creepy” detectors would be pinging wildly. But Koenig rests on her privilege in this case – the privilege of being white, being affiliated with This American Life, the privilege of being female – to try to get in touch with the family of the very person who has made this podcast possible. And it’s clear that they do. not. want. to. talk. to. her.

And oh my god, she continues doing the story anyway. Without permission from the family of the deceased victim. How disgusting is that?

I’ve been very disheartened through the episodes I’ve listened to so far that the victim of this crime has been so absent in everything we hear. We know all about two of the (still-living) men involved in this case in great detail, but the victim? The woman who was killed? Has had almost NO VOICE in any episode of this show (with the exception of Koenig reading excerpts from her diary, for god’s sake), and it’s disgusting and I’m so sad about it.

Apparently I’m not the only one who’s having problems with this particular podcast – a web search for “serial podcast ethics” brings back a whole host of similarly (and more nuanced) criticisms.

I’m very conflicted about whether to continue listening to the podcast. I would like very much for the season to be wrapped up with an “ah-ha! So-and-so was REALLY the killer!” moment, with justice served for the victim and her family. And yet I don’t think that’s likely to happen quite so neatly, and truth be told, I really don’t want Koenig to get any credit for doing that because I’m so grossed out by how she’s treating the victim and victim’s family.

How Not to Reply to a Yelp Review

I just got the following comment from a business owner in my Yelp inbox:

Sorry you did not enjoy your meal and felt the need to post it on the internet. We have a manager and owner on call and on site at all hours. Reviews like yours are very sad. FYI, the [food] is the most authentic you will get and also the ones you get in [European city] from the vendors are days old…they are made and sold days old because the tourists “may never come back so whats the difference” Have a good day.

Here is my response, with the name of the business removed:

I’m assuming you’re referring to my review of [your restaurant] in [town] from 2008.

Yelp is a service that all business owners/managers need to be aware of and monitor regularly. It’s a way of finding out what’s going well and not going well in their businesses. People don’t always like to talk with managers and owners directly – you have to go where the feedback is to find out what you need to do better. No, I didn’t talk with an owner or manager in 2008 when I ate at [your restaurant]. I wasn’t impressed with the food, but I also didn’t feel the need for a refund or for an opportunity to come back and try it again. In my experience, that’s usually what happens when someone talks to an owner or manager. Instead, I turned to my network to tell them about my experience at the restaurant. If it in some way hurt your business in the two years since I posted the review, well, I hope you have been reading and learning and improving, and that you understand that my experience was just that – MINE. I haven’t read the reviews of the restaurant since I left mine; perhaps others are better. If that’s the case, you likely have little to worry about.

As for your FYI, I appreciate that you felt the need to correct what I experienced during the months that I lived in [European city] and completely dismissed the fact that I actually watched some of the street vendors making [food named above]. No, I didn’t post all that information in my review. It didn’t seem necessary at the time, since I really never expected to be challenged about HOW the street vendors I knew made their food; my review was about [your restaurant] not [European city] [food] vendors. But whatever. If you feel the need to tell me that what I experienced was something other than what it was, go right ahead. Make the assumption that I was only there for a very short time and don’t know what I’m talking about.

I really hope you understand that your message to me was a ridiculously rude way to try to change my mind about the restaurant. However, if you were to edit your message and re-send it to me, this would be a much better and more positive way to get my attention:

“Sorry you did not enjoy your meal two years ago. We would love it if you would try [our restaurant] again; in particular, the XXX is something most of our customers rave about. After your meal, our manager and/or owner would love to hear from you directly, to find out if your experience was better than it was 2 years ago. Have a good day.”

Do you see the difference in tone in those two emails? The edited version is from someone who actually wants a customer to visit again, while your version is from someone who is telling the customer that her experience was invalid. Not a great way to make me want to come rushing back.

Honestly, if you had sent me something like the edited version, I WOULD have tried [your restaurant] again, and I would have spoken with the manager and/or owner, and if the experience and food had improved, I would have written another review here on Yelp saying so. But given what you wrote me (ridiculously rude, remember?) I won’t be re-trying [your restaurant] any time.


So besides the fact that  I’m  completely passive-aggressive in parts of this message back to the person who wrote to me, I have to say I’m pretty happy with the bulk of this message.

Small business owners: If you are getting onto Yelp or another review service for the first time, a few words of advice.

  1. Read my message above. If you must respond to feedback about your business, consider using something like my edited message.
  2. Pay attention to the dates the reviews were initially posted. Maybe you had different management then, or different servers, or a different chef, or SOMETHING different. Use that as a point of reference to encourage the person to come back.
  3. For the love of customer service mavens everywhere, don’t tell folks that they didn’t experience what they say they experienced. Ever. It just makes you look defensive and honestly, kind of like a jerk.
  4. Do follow the lead of the person who wrote to me, though. Message the person directly, don’t post responses as a review of your business. I will say, that is one thing this person did correctly.

That’s all. Getting off my soapbox now.

Thanksgiving a Week Early

Tulip It’s been a rough few weeks around here, mostly at work. So after today’s gloom-and-doom, I headed to Crossfit, got my butt handed to me by wall balls and the knees-to-elbows. Not exactly what I was hoping for, but I did get all my pushups done strict (i.e. not on my knees), so that’s progress.

Then I came home, realized that the vague feeling of nausea wasn’t related to working out, but rather to the tiny, late lunch I ate today thanks to my gloom-and-doom sort of day at work. Amy rushed out to grill our dinner (YUM) and I got a little food in me and started thinking more about my day.

And then I realized:

  • I have a job.
  • That interests me.
  • That allows me to work with smart people.
  • Where I get to work on interesting problems and projects.
  • In a beautiful environment.
  • That is close to my home.
  • For which I get a salary.
  • Which allows me to live in a house with my wife and our dogs.
  • And play hockey.
  • And Crossfit.
  • And travel.
  • And give money to causes and organizations which mean a great deal to me.

So while I know I’m not the only one who’s feeling awfully overwhelmed about work these days, those are all things for which I am eternally grateful, and I don’t want to forget it. Not everyone is in such a situation, especially not these days, and I never want to take these blessings for granted.

Where are the lesbian CrossFitters?

lgbtcfApparently tribes don’t have sub-tribes.

Here’s the thing: lesbians tend to befriend other lesbians. There are in-jokes and there’s culture and obviously there needs to be a manual for those who are newly out so they aren’t quite so clueless when hanging out with lesbians who’ve been out longer than them.

Here’s the other thing: CrossFitters tend to befriend other CrossFitters. There are in-jokes and there’s culture and obviously there needs to be a manual for those who are new CrossFitters so they aren’t quite so clueless when hanging out with folks who’ve been CrossFitting longer than them.

You’d think there would be a subculture within either group that would encompass the other, wouldn’t you? Well, I can’t find it. And I’m frankly baffled.

Case in point in terms of not being able to find anything: the two threads on gay Crossfitters over on the Crossfit forums were closed, apparently because people kept fighting and arguing (mostly it was trolls who don’t “approve of” the “gay lifestyle” who came in and picked fights, and the LGBT folks and allies engaged.). Now sexuality – well, specifically non-heterosexuality – is lumped with religion and politics as verboten topics over there. Just lovely. I sooooo enjoy being a banned topic. Googling turned up very little, other than the fact that most Crossfit gyms don’t update their blog software enough (holy disgusting link spam in the comments…) and that the term “gay” is still used as a very common insult. Sigh.

So I put this out there: are they any other LGBT CrossFitters out there, other than the 3 I know at my affiliate?

Magic Hat Beer Cap Wisdom

Magic Hat bottle capMagic Hat Brewery has “fortunes” on every bottle cap. I’ve saved all mine this summer – don’t think there’s a duplicate in there yet. Here’s my compilation of wisdom:

  • Suck the toe of Edgar Allen Poe
  • Never Flee from Glee
  • Jinx! Buy me a Beer.
  • a good man drinks a good beer
  • Reference the greats
  • Don’t Tease, aim to Please
  • Make your Move to Improve your Groove
  • A beer in the hand is worth 2 in the fridge.
  • No matter Where, you’re always There
  • If you are reading this, thank a brewer
  • Herbert the Pervert likes Sherbet
  • Originality is hard to duplicate
  • You’re a Winner!
  • Find the Way through Play
  • What could be Better than a beer with Eddie Vedder
  • Life is Not a Dress Rehearsal
  • Those who Race miss life’s Grace
  • HI!
  • It’s still Home if you’re Alone
  • Visit alternative destinations
  • It can be Great to Agitate
  • Bottled with Care by Rob, Chrissy, and Crew
  • Beware the Bore Behind the Door
  • The Answer is inside You
  • A Magic Brew or two may lead you to the loo
  • Kindlessness = Mindlessness
  • How did You get like This?
  • Don’t Throw Stones at Other’s Bones
  • Don’t Plunder the Wonder
  • Don’t Rely on those who won’t Try
  • Do not Quibble with Iskabibble
  • Travel Wide but not to Hide
  • I Have What I Want
  • Don’t throw a Can at a good looking Man
  • You are next in line
  • It’s Easy to Talk and Say nothing at the Same
  • The root of Pretension is Apprehension
  • Magic is Where you Make it

Notes: I had a lot of help drinking these. Punctuation and capitalization were copied exactly.