Only one story

In the Ted Talk, Adichie explains her experience of discovering the problems of only learning one story. She discusses how distorted our perception can be of a concept, person or situation if we only know one perspective. This is really what The Wire’s style is all about. It’s about moving away from a story or a show that only shows that one perspective. It’s about leaving behind rifle-shot journalism and proceeding in the form of ethnography. The Wire aims to provide a multi perspectival look at Baltimore to see the problems faced in the city from as many perspectives as possible. Due to this, rather than the viewers seeing the drug dealers as trash, or the intercity kids as a waste of effort, or the police as corrupt and careless we can see a more realistic view of the story. We instead get to see that some people in the drug trade are decent human beings. Rather than being trashy people they are instead often people who do not see any other options for financial survival.

We can also see that many of the kids are hindered by their home life, the drug activity, and the poverty that surrounds them. If we only saw the kids from the perspective of the teachers or the cops, we may perceive them all to be troublemakers and a waste of effort to try to educate. Instead, we can see that many of them are simply struggling to survive and thus have more pressing concerns than education. In addition, we see how early on the kids are exposed to the drug trade and the value that the adults in their lives instill upon the trade. This is another reason much of the youth of Baltimore seems to value school very little.

We are also able to see that there are both good cops and bad cops policing the streets and that they face a great deal of barriers in managing the problems of the city. In typical cop or crime shows we are usually only shown the side we want to see of this – the good cops. We also usually see a vastly simplified solution to the problems or that the solutions are not looked into in-depth. So, in The Wire, the various perspectives allow us to understand the reality of these peoples’ lives and see that everyone has a story and unique situation.

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Problems with Serial

Both of the articles make interesting comments about Serial. The one by Spook Magazine seems to come to broader, more negative conclusions about Serial than the Patheos article. From our perspective, the Patheos article actually seemed to be more critical of the cell phone evidence and the case than of the Serial podcast. We aren’t sure if this is so much a problem with the podcast as it is with the evidence. However, we do recognize that during the podcast Sarah and Dana came to some conclusions based on what the state had presented against Adnan. While they presented their doubt as to the reliability of the cell phone data, their conclusions may have been irresponsible since they had this doubt.

The Spook article did touch on some important and sensitive issues also. One of these, and probably the most concerning, is the fact that this is a real life tragedy and, realistically, it is being used for entertainment purposes. This raises some issues in regards to respect for the victim and her family. While Koenig seems to have attempted to provide a positive and accurate image of Hae, the image is still very limited. Much more focus, partially due to the available input of information, falls on Adnan’s side. Also, the very nature of the usage of the story for entertainment could, presumably, be causing distress and pain to Hae’s family and friends.

Another issue raised is the motivation for the podcast and the storytelling style that underscores it. While the point of the story upfront seems to be about finding the truth, there seems to be some slant in Adnan’s favor. We realize that while Sarah acts as though she has little bias, she is human and thus is unable to be completely neutral. However, many listeners of the story may not perceive the bias. The style of the storytelling enforces the feeling that the podcast is not biased. The way the story seems to unravel each week, based on investigation and facts can be misleading to listeners. We also agreed with the lack of input from certain characters in the podcast. While Jay and Stephanie played huge parts in the story presented, we do not actually hear from them. Not only were they a huge part of the story but they had the potential to show the side that does not work in Adnan’s favor. The closest thing we get to hearing them speak is when Dana and Sarah relate a single conversation they had with Jay. However, this still excludes Stephanie who seems like she could greatly contribute to the story.

SERIAL AND PERSUASIVENESS

Through the Serial podcasts, we heard various narrative perspectives and points of view. From the start, Serial portrayed multiple sides of the story, including Sarah’s, who was one of the producers. What made Serial so persuasive was that it told a story through someone else who was trying to figure out the facts, and displaying those facts through the podcast. Most of the time, you read an article, or view a case on the news, and you absorb the information second hand. Being able to listen to both sides from their mouths had an effect on how we perceived the suspects in the case. How they told their stories, such as tone of voice, created a sense of truth.

One very persuasive aspect of Serial was the storytelling. We often hear stories about crime tilted in favor of the storyteller. The story is set up from the beginning with an assumption of guilt on one side. In Serial, although Adnan is in jail and thus presumed guilty, Sarah told the story impartially. We were persuaded into thinking that Adnan was guilty because his friend was supposedly there, and vouched he was a witness at the time. It changed when we heard Adnan speak on his view of that day. He was adamant, and as Sarah specified, that he “flat out, did not do it.” He was confident and sincere in his delivery. Another persuasive aspect was the people who came to his defense. They portrayed him as well-rounded, and too occupied with his life to make such an erroneous decision. His family and friends testified that he was religious, played sports, and got good grades.

Through Sarah, the listener took a journey through the events that led to and followed Hae’s murder. She included a great deal of comments from people who knew those involved in the story. This is something crime stories rarely share with us:  an impartial view. With Serial, the opinions and comments were mixed, and they were from so many sources that they felt impartial. Although persuasiveness can be a good thing, it can change the truth of what might have really happened. Serial had many aspects of truth and points of view, so that it was easy to be persuaded by each person who took part in the story.

Bruce Alexander and Rat Park

The findings of Alexander’s experiments raise questions about the common understanding of addiction and how to handle it. Alexander’s experiments with Rat Park showed flaws in the original rat experiments that provided much of the evidence for our common ideas about addiction. He demonstrated that socially deprived rats medicated themselves, often to death, with drugs. However, he also showed that when rats were given a natural environment, with distractions and other rats with which to interact, they chose to abstain from drug use. Even rats that were drug dependent for 57 days chose to suffer withdrawal symptoms and become sober when given the opportunity in Rat Park.

The experiments call into question the current system for managing drug use and addiction. They help to explain why drug wars that further isolate people in cages result in a revolving door system of drug offenders. If drugs are something people bond with in place of human connection, if the problem is not addiction, but instead the cage that addicts live in, then our system for dealing with addiction is destined to fail. Alexander outlines the current Official View of Addiction. This paradigm sees addicts as people who cannot be cured, but only managed. It does not address why people abuse substances other than genetic predispositions, or chronic, relapsing brain disease. These assumptions minimize the ability to overcome addiction, and do not address psychological or environmental factors. Alexander suggests that the Dislocation Theory of Addiction better explains addiction, and that like rats, humans who reconnect with society would naturally stop using.

The struggles with the current view of addiction are demonstrated throughout The Wire. Drug users and dealers are written off by most as lost causes. There is little to no focus on solving the drug problem. This phenomenon is embodied in the character Bubbles, a crack addict who struggles with sobriety and a sense of belonging. Simon mentioned in one of his interviews that the drug war is pointless. He suggested that our society would be better off decriminalizing drugs and using the money to rehabilitate addicts, and reconnect them to society by giving them a sense of purpose. While this sounds radical, according to the article by Hari, it was put into place in Portugal and was very effective. The top drug cop in Portugal was initially against the move for various reasons, but he later admitted that none of his dire predictions about legalization had come to pass. This is enlightening information and seems to suggest that other countries with similar problems, including the United States, would benefit from the decriminalization of drug use.