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Serial Forgetfulness: An Investigation Into the Serial Podcast

The Serial podcast discusses the murder of high school student Hae Min Lee, and the ongoing investigation and incarceration of her boyfriend and classmate, Adnan Syed. This incredibly entertaining podcast has become one of my favourites, mainly due to the intrigue and suspense created by narrator Sarah Koenig. This podcast is very interactive and allows the listener to engage in the investigation alongside Koenig. I also am a huge fan of nonfiction stories, in particular ones about crime, both of which are characteristics of this popular podcast. Finally, I really like it because you can hear actual interviews and footage from Koenig’s investigation into Lee’s murder.

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Above is Hae Min Lee (left) and Adnan Syed.

The Serial podcast is unique in that it is one of very few podcasts based on one true crime story per season, and the fact that it is in podcast form makes it very appealing. Readers can actually listen to real recordings and interviews recorded by Sarah Koenig herself, as well as others made by the police. Listeners are able to hear the emotion in people’s voices as Koenig interviews them and sarcasm can actually be used. Through podcasts, listeners feel as though they are actually present with Koenig as she conducts her investigations and they can deduce things for themselves.

While a podcast might be the best choice for an auditory learner, reading can be beneficial to people like me, who prefer to have visuals when learning. I, personally, like to listen and read at the same time, so something that might benefit me would be having a transcript to read along with the podcast. Both reading and listening can have their benefits which vary from person to person.

Some benefits of listening to a podcast, for example, include hearing emotion conveyed in the speaker’s voice. It can also be beneficial for the visually impaired or those who have reading disabilities. That said, they can also have some disadvantages such as not being able to constantly look at the same piece of information easily. With a podcast, the listener has to rewind the audio to an exact time to hear specific information, which is tedious.

Reading, on the other hand, can be beneficial because you can easily reread a text over and over by simply studying the previous sentence. Readers can interpret what the narrator is trying to say on their own which can be good, but it can also be bad if the writer has a specific interpretation in mind. Reading can also be helpful for deaf people to be able to understand and participate in the investigation.

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For auditory learners, a podcast is very beneficial to listen to.

One thing that a lot of people do not consider about this podcast is that not only is Syed’s family affected by his incarceration and the newfound attention, but Hae Min Lee’s family is experiencing lots of attention as well. To me, it would make sense that they would be excited to have more people look at and listen to the case because then they might have some definitive answers about Hae’s murder. There are many people on the internet who fancy themselves sleuths that have already begin to investigate the murder alongside Koenig because of the podcast. From an outsider’s perspective, it makes sense that the family would be happy to have help in the investigation but in reality, the Lees have voiced their displeasure quite vocally.

As it turns out, the Serial podcast has caused many to sympathize with Syed, who the Lees are certain killed Hae. All this podcast has done is create stress for a family that has already gone through the grieving process once and does not wish to go through it again.

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The Serial Podcast has caused a lot of grief for Hae Min Lee’s family, which is evident on her mother’s face.

Many of the accusations against Syed are based off of people’s memories, which, in my opinion, is not strong enough evidence to incarcerate him. Syed seems suspicious because he cannot remember the specifics about where he was when Hae Min Lee was murdered, but is it fair for this suspicion to be placed on him? I can’t even remember what I ate for breakfast, so how should he remember where he was for 21 minutes on a random day in his past?

When a person does not know that they are going to need to remember something, they likely are not going to feel obligated to, in fact our brains make us forget things we deem insignificant (Dvorsky, 2014). For Adnan Syed, the day Lee was murdered likely seemed like a regular day until he heard about his girlfriend’s murder. Until that point, there was nothing significant for him to remember so it makes sense that he would have forgotten his whereabouts around the time that Lee was murdered.

Due to the fact that memories are not sufficient enough to hold Syed accountable, I know that the rest of the podcast will be based on finding solid proof that Syed either did or did not commit the murder, meaning that Koenig has her work cut out for her.

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Sarah Koenig has to work hard to solve the mystery of Hae Min Lee’s murder.

Works Cited

Francke, Caitlin. “19-year-old gets life sentence for killing former girlfriend” 7 June, 2000, http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2000-06-07/news/0006070134_1_syed-honors-student-urick. Web. Accessed 21 July 2017.

“Auditory Learner” 2014, http://www.whatismylearningstyle.com/auditory-learner.html. Web. Accessed 21 July 2017.

Robinson, Will. “Family of ‘Serial’ victim Hae Min Lee say her convicted killer Adnan Syed ‘destroyed our family’ in emotional letter that slams the podcast’s fans for running to defend him” 8 Feb. 2016. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3437662/Family-Serial-victim-Hae-Min-Lee-says-convicted-killer-Adnan-Syed-destroyed-family-slams-podcast-s-fans-running-defend-him.html. Web. Accessed 21 July 2017.

“Episode 1: The Alibi Lyrics” 2017, https://genius.com/Serial-podcast-episode-1-the-alibi-annotated. Web. Accessed 21 July 2017.

Dvorsky, George. “Our brains deliberately make us forget things, to prevent insanity” 14 Mar. 2014, http://io9.gizmodo.com/our-brains-deliberately-make-us-forget-things-to-preve-1543846375. Web. Accessed 21 July 2017.

Koenig, Sarah. “Episode 1: The Alibi.” Serial. WBEZ Chicago, 2014. Audio blog post. Accessed 21 July 2017.

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Feminist Theory in “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lack greatly revolves around different women’s lives and has a very strong female voice. Here is a video with proof of this:

 

Transcript:

“As shown in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, women have been central characters all throughout Henrietta’s lifetime, with many women becoming central characters after Henrietta’s life has passed. While men have been very instrumental to the story, it is the women who keep the ball rolling in the research of Henrietta’s life. Men are often the breadwinners in this story, but nearly every woman in this novel has been portrayed as strong and independent. Women are often the silent heroes, like Henrietta Lacks herself, a woman who kept much of her suffering to herself, in fact “no one remembers her complaining of feeling sick” (Skloot, 42). Even her daughter, Deborah becomes a hero by searching long and hard for information about her mother. [clip from movie] In her family, Deborah is a strong woman who has many struggles but still works her hardest to help her family. Women also play the roles of supportive characters, like Sadie and Gladys, Henrietta’s support system and cousins. Often women have to exercise their power in order to be seen. Otherwise, women are seen as property and not a person, like Henrietta often being referred to as HeLa instead of Henrietta Lacks (Griffin, 2012). In order to exercise her power, Deborah has to work harder than many of the male characters present in this story. She digs tirelessly for information about her mother and sister, Elsie, with the help of the protagonist, Rebecca Skloot. Through her research, Deborah learns, “that [she] did have a mother, and all the tragedy she went through.” (288). Because of her power and knowledge, people view Deborah as a guardian. Her family leans on her for comfort and information, and she can control even the trickiest people in her life. At first, women are restricted, like Henrietta whose cells are taken without her permission or Deborah who is given no information about her mother’s medical history. [clip] Gender issues play a huge part in these women’s lives, determining many of their experiences (“Feminist Criticism (1960s-present)”, 2010). Eventually, through proving themselves to be hard workers, the women of this story are able to persevere and earn the respect that they deserve. Rebecca clearly views the women in this story as strong characters and seems to feel that men are more stubborn and less sensitive. This makes it easier for the reader to feel emotionally connected to the women of the story and harder for them to relate to the men. It seems that this story revolves around the struggles of diversity, specifically among races and genders. Although the odds are stacked against them, every woman in this story ends up on top whether it be Henrietta saving countless lives, Rebecca bringing peace to the Lacks family or Deborah finally getting closure about her mother and sister. It took a lot of work and “the impact of such a detailed account of their history” was vast, however the strong women in this story continued digging (Melissa, 2011).  These women persisted, resulting in a happy ending for all and a wonderful and true story about family, equality and strong women.”

 

Sources:

“Amazing & Beautiful Cinematic Background Music For Videos” Youtube, 21 Jan. 2015,https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Gd8mbQ3-mI. Web. Accessed 20 July 2017.

“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: Official Trailer (HBO)” Youtube, 15 Mar. 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X-jxEX1XQpY. Web. Accessed 20 July 2017.

Allen Brizee, J. Case Tompkins, Libby Chernouski, Elizabeth Boyle. “Feminist Criticism (1960s-present)” The Purdue OWL, Purdue U Writing Lab, 21 Apr. 2010, https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/722/11/. Web. Accessed 20 July 2017.

Griffin, Rachel. “Writing Henrietta Lacks Into Herstory” Ms. Magazine, 29 March 2012, http://msmagazine.com/blog/2012/03/29/writing-henrietta-lacks-into-herstory/. Web. Accessed 20 July 2017.

Skloot, Rebecca. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Crown Publishing Group, 2010.

Melissa. “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” Feminist Texican Reads, 30 March 2011, https://feministtexicanreads.wordpress.com/2011/03/30/the-immortal-life-of-henrietta-lacks/. Web. Accessed 20 July 2017.

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Immortal Archetypes in “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”

In literature, we often find that some characters follow a similar path to characters in other stories or share similar characteristics. This is called an archetype, the basis of Archetypal Literary Theory where stories are broken down and analyzed to discover archetypes that enrich our understanding of the text.

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Examples of archetypes and exaggerated visuals of the characters that possess them.

Archetypes can even be found in non-fiction stories, for example The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. In this very real story, Henrietta Lacks is given the archetype of the Hero. She lives a very difficult life and continues to be strong, however she is eventually killed from complications due to the cancer that survives throughout her body. Before her untimely death, Dr. George Gey collects a sample of the cells from her cervix, the origin of Henrietta’s cancer, without Henrietta’s knowledge or consent. These cells, known as HeLa, have been used to create a vaccine for polio and even used in research on how human cells react in space (Skloot, 2). Henrietta is a hero without even realizing it because, although she died, she saved countless other lives.

Another archetype that is prevalent in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is the mad scientist, an archetype portrayed by Dr. George Gey. Gey works toward a very unlikely goal: to find “immortal” human cells. While “most cells died quickly, and the few that survived hardly grew at all”, Gey found that HeLa cells thrived in culture (30). Gey goes where no other scientist has ventured, and ends up successful, his contributions to science going down in history.

While the book is named after Henrietta Lacks, it is told from the point of view of Rebecca Skloot, author and Sleuth. In my opinion, Rebecca’s archetype is the Sleuth because she is persistent in her research into Henrietta Lacks’ life, HeLa cells, and the Lacks family. No one wants to talk to her, yet Rebecca persists and speaks to anyone she possibly can about Henrietta’s life. Rebecca puts years of research into HeLa cells and the Lackses, earning her the sleuth archetype as she presses for more information to shed light on the amazing story of Henrietta Lacks.

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The movie portrayal of Rebecca Skloot (Rose Byrne) and Deborah Lacks (Oprah Winfrey), Henrietta’s daughter as Skloot researches the Lacks family.

When examining archetypes, it becomes easier to connect characters from different pieces of literature to each other because of their similar roles. For example, in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot can be easily compared to Nancy Drew because of her sleuthing abilities and how she charms everyone she comes across. When these two people are connected, it becomes clear that for successful research a character who is willing to devote their life to finding more information and solving a mystery must be the main character of the story.

Another character who is comparable to someone else in literature is Henrietta Lacks. She is constantly giving, even after her death, much like the character of The Giving Tree from the popular children’s novel by the same title. After comparing the two characters, I realize how unjust it is for the doctors to have taken Henrietta’s cells without her consent and that in the end, she ended up much like the stump that once was The Giving Tree. She gave all she could and continues to do so, but never received thanks for her incredible contributions to the entire world.

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An image of The Giving Tree once she has been used up completely. yet she continues to give.

Archetypal Literary Theory doesn’t just deal with archetypes in characters, it also analyzes symbolism in stories. An example of symbolism in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is religion, which symbolizes hope for the Lacks family. Rebecca explains that to heal her daughter, Elsie’s epilepsy, “Henrietta made [her husband, David “Day” Lacks] drive her and Elsie to revival meetings so preachers in tents could lay hands on Elsie to heal her, but it never worked” (44-45). The Lacks family uses religion to bring hope into their lives through prayers and miracles, such as the possibility of Henrietta’s ailments being cured by God.

Another example of symbolism in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks are the HeLa cells, which symbolize life. Against all odds, “Henrietta’s cells weren’t merely surviving, they were growing with mythological intensity” (40). Despite these cells bringing death to Henrietta, they helped to protect massive amounts of children from polio and continue to be alive and used in research today.

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An actual image of HeLa cells that continue to live today.

While the hero of this story is clearly Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot is a less obvious, but still relevant hero. As many heroes do, Rebecca helps people in need like the Lackses, by bringing attention to the family and their hardships surrounding Henrietta’s death and the press attention about her cells. Rebecca does not seek heroism, she simply is placed in this position because of all the work she has put into helping the Lacks family.

Rebecca may align with the typical hero archetype in some ways, she also differs greatly from this path. At the beginning of her journey, she causes the Lacks family great stress by pressing into the matter of Henrietta’s life. She also hurts them by bringing up memories that they might be trying to suppress, like Henrietta’s friend, Emmett’s memory of the great pain that she endured, causing her to wish for death (85). Rebecca also does not physically help or save people in this story, but instead helps them emotionally by easing their pain and bringing comfort to the Lackses.

Based on all that Rebecca Skloot has done already, I am expecting her to become more closely connected to the Lacks family to further comfort them. I know that Rebecca becomes very close with Henrietta’s daughter Deborah, saying in the Prologue, “I’d become a character in her story, and she in mine” in relation to their bond (7). To get this far, I believe that Rebecca will finally be able to contact the Lacks family so she can help to give them closure after all this time. I truly hope this happens, because reading about the hardships the Lackses have faced is heartbreaking. It is time that they have a happy ending to this immortal story because of their immense contributions to humankind.

Works Cited

“Quick guide to HeLa cells” Big Picture, Feb. 2011, https://bigpictureeducation.com/quick-guide-hela-cells. Web. Accessed 12 July 2017.

Turner, Timothy. “Development of the Polio Vaccine: A Historical Perspective of Tuskegee University’s Role in Mass Production and Distribution of HeLa Cells” The National Center for Biotechnology Information, 23 Nov. 2012, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4458465/. Web. Accessed 12 July 2017.

“Introduction to Cell Culture” Thermo Fisher Scientific, https://www.thermofisher.com/ca/en/home/references/gibco-cell-culture-basics/introduction-to-cell-culture.html. Web. Accessed 12 July 2017.

Fisher, Jennifer. “The Mysterious History of Nancy Drew” Nancy Drew Sleuth, http://www.nancydrewsleuth.com/history.html. Web. Accessed 12 July 2017.

Strauss, Elissa. “The uncomfortable truth in The Giving Tree” The Week, 17 Oct. 2014, http://theweek.com/articles/443019/uncomfortable-truth-giving-tree. Web. Accessed 12 July 2017.

“Hero” Literary Devices, https://literarydevices.net/hero/. Web. Accessed 12 July 2017.

Skloot, Rebecca. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Crown Publishing Group, 2010.