Backtalk: #OscarsSoWhite and Serial

On Backtalk, Bitch editors Amy and Sarah discuss this week in pop culture. This week, they dig into how the lack of diversity at the Oscars shows the way the film industry systemically discriminates against people of color. A great relevant read: “‘Proportional Representation’ Has No Place In Diversity Discussions” by Léonicka Valcius. Then, they dish on how the new season of Serial is not as good as they want it to be. 

Tune in! 

Also, on Backtalk, we feature one thing we read, saw, and heard. 

READ: Monica Sok's piece on Fear, Fearlessness, and Intergenerational Trauma.

SAW: The documentary After Tiller is now on Netflix.

HEARD: Check out Taina Asili's Black Lives Matter anthem “Freedom.”

This episode of Backtalk is brought to you by Oregon State University's ECampus. OSU Ecampus delivers nearly 20 undergraduate degrees and programs online in liberal studies, natural resources, agricultural sciences and foreign languages. You can start any season, so apply today.

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by Sarah Mirk
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Sarah Mirk is the former host of Bitch Media’s podcast Popaganda. She’s interested in gender, history, comics, and talking to strangers. You can follow her on Twitter

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3 Comments Have Been Posted


Hey, guys -- love the podcast. It's one of the few I set to automatically download and is my go-to Saturday morning breakfast-time listen.

I have to speak up to say, though -- I  think you were a little dismissive of the second season of Serial. To me, a story about how messed up war is, the Kafkaesque bureaucracy and proceduralism behind it all, what deployment does to the minds of soldiers, how cruel humans can be to each other, and Sarah Koenig's efforts to make sense of the maelstrom of political and cultural currents make the first season -- a high school crime of passion -- seem pretty dull in comparison. The facts around a murder are hard to determine -- really? The police cut corners in trying to get a conviction -- really? A key witness' story isn't the same everytime -- really? I'm being flippant -- of course season one was very well-written, and of course Koenig is a gifted narrator and interviewer, but here's what I think you miss about season two.

  • The main character. There's no disputing that Bowe Bergdahl screwed up and ultimately has himself to blame -- he admits that. But here is a naive, frustrated young guy who, deluded though he may have been, tried to take action about something he thought was fucked up in his unit and wanted to prove himself (I guess we have to wait until next episode to hear more about the details behind his motives). Despite his mistake, and no matter how mediocre you judge him to be, his mental strength and psychological resilience during five years of brutal captivity is nothing short of heroic. For me, it is so compelling to hear this about a man who has been sold short and maligned ever since he went missing, especially hearing Bergdahl's own candor and understatement. I was so moved by his description of his memories of sunsets and night sky during his escape attempt, even though he was badly injured, hungry, and sick -- such a human moment.
  • Bergdahl's loved ones. Bowe's parents and his emergency contact, Kim Harrison, apply pressure to find Bowe where others wouldn't. I'm not sure what to make of it, but I thought it was interesting that Harrison chose to characterize her persistence as feminine. This is a possibly inappropriate comparison, but characterizing her persistence as feminine reminded me of how the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo were uniquely positioned to demand answers of the Argentine government (Bouvard, Revolutionizing Motherhood). Lastly, I am impressed by what a gentle masculine figure Bowe's father seems to present, though we still haven't heard much of him.
  • Different perspectives. Given that almost every episode tells Bergdahl's story from a different angle, I think what Amy said about one-sidedness is unfair, particularly her point about Serial writing off Bergdahl's captors. Koenig picked up a phone to speak with the Taliban (my jaw dropped at the episode one teaser: "That's me, calling the Taliban"), and most of the second episode is from their point of view. Other episodes are interspersed with comments from Afghans who corroborate various details, and the entire fourth episode focuses on the Taliban, the Haqqanis, their organization, relations with other groups, and motivations. In fact, episode four does a lot complicate any kind of "America: good; Afghans and Pakistanis: bad" narrative. We hear about how the US is complicit in the rise of the Taliban. We hear about a compassionate cook who wants to make sure Bergdahl has blankets and extra food. We hear about an old man who chides journalist David Rohde's Taliban captors that Islam demands that they must treat their non-Muslim prisoner more dignity. Rohde himself makes the point that there are tolerant groups within the region and the Taliban does not represent the only kind of Islam in the region. 

Altogether, there's no disputing taste, and it's okay for people to find the second season boring or less well written, but I had to write register my disagreement -- season two has me rapt. I'd be interested to read what other listeners think.

Thanks for your note!

Hi Christian, 

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Serial is very well-produced and well-reported and there's a lot to admire about the show. But I think the story they're exploring this season just doesn't connect with me in the deep and powerful way the first season did. As a listener, I'm just less interested, less drawn in, and find my mind wandering to other stories I want them to explore instead. It's good to know that this season is connecting with some listeners, though. Thanks for your perspective. 

Great points

Christian! Thanks so much for your thoughtful points. Like you said, there's really no accounting for taste! I have a friend who, like you, is interested in this season for many of the reasons you've pointed out. To your note about Sarah Koenig's representation of non-US military folks on the “other side,” I'm just not compelled by the show's depiction because it feels essentializing and two-dimensional. The most interesting bit about Bergdahl's captors was about how bored his guards were and loathed to be assigned to watch over him. And that moment you mentioned about the teaser where Koenig says she's going to call the Taliban, my jaw dropped for another reason because the way I heard the teaser made it sound like a cutesy, flippant way to describe speaking with an official from the Taliban. It just didn't sit right with me. 
Thanks again for listening to Backtalk and really appreciate the dialogue!

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