Subjectivity v. Objectivity (2015)

When I think Serial by Sarah Koenig, I think of a few different arguments and disputes:

  • The most glaring and obvious one is the ethical struggle of Adnan’s fate. Should he be where he is just because one Dennis Rodman-looking kid with a very inconsistent story thinks he heard him say “Imma kill that bitch” in passing?
  • Is Adnan the charming sociopath that the judge said he was? In my opinion, a master manipulator wouldn’t be so dumb as to involve any extras in the murder (Jay).
  • Finally, where does Koenig land on the spectrum of subjectivity and objectivity when dealing with this case, and how does it affect audience perception?

When I think of the raging battle between Subjectivity and Objectivity I think of a hockey fight. As they all start, Subjectivity impulsively lands a not-very-clean hit on one of Objectivity’s team mates. As the victim of the hit cringes on the ice, Objectivity maliciously skates up to Subjectivity and the two drop their gloves almost simultaneously. Objectivity delivers three strong right hands to the face of Subjectivity, the last of which sends his helmet tumbling to the ice. Subjectivity counters by pulling down on the sweater of Objectivity, trowing him off balance, and subsequently landing a strong uppercut. Objectivity answers with three more rights, the second of which breaks skin under the eye of Subjectivity and blood flows. Just when you think Subjectivity has lost the fight he gets an arm free and connects seven or ten strong rights to the face, neck, and stomach of Objectivity. Objectivity falls to the blood stained ice and Subjectivity immediately skates to the penalty box. Moments later Objectivity gets to his feet and slowly skates to his box. You can feel the leftover adrenaline seep from both skaters as sweat and steam continue to exit their bodies.

Subjectivity being manhandled by Objectivity as Sarah Koenig attempts to capture it with her camera lens

Subjectivity being manhandled by Objectivity as Sarah Koenig attempts to capture it with her camera lens

Sarah Koenig knows of his fight all too well. It must have been at the forefront of her mind as she produced this podcast and attempted to execute it ethically.

Koenig’s broadcast style is a major factor in the objectivity-subjectivity spectrum. In Episode 03: Leakin Park, she introduced Mr. S in a kind of way that made him out to be elusive, even artistically creepy…thats subjective. Later, she uses clips of the police interview of Mr. S, thats objective, but it gets muddied by Koenig’s somewhat subjective introduction of Mr. S– Even the fact that she wont use his real name makes him sound creepy. What does Mr. S stand for? Mr. Streaker? Why can’t she just call him Jim? or the guy who found the body? I’ll tell you why, Koenig needs to maintain the reader-writer dynamic of truth and honesty. Without that she’s just a voice, just a 45 year old woman who used to work for the Baltimore Sun.

As you may have noticed, looking back to the top of this post, my first two bullets are quite subjective. They tell you where I stand in the case of Adnan. My final bullet is objective, asking you the reader to think for yourself.

My point is, there will never be an entirely objective piece or an entirely subjective piece of nonfiction that is worth reading. Even the most objective piece includes a hint of subjectivity and vice versa. We as readers subconsciously enjoy this variety and use it as a tool in our own personal investigation.


5 thoughts on “Subjectivity v. Objectivity (2015)

  1. Lizzie Pellegrino

    I really like the description of objectivity and subjectivity as a hockey fight. That was very easy to comprehend, and it fit the struggle between those two aspects of reading and writing. It seems like a lot of the time Subjectivity wins over Objectivity, even though Objectivity is the more direct and clean fighter. (You said Subjectivity would pull down the shirt of Objectivity, which is cheating and rude and an indirect way of fighting). Koenig must have dealt with the struggle between these two things as much as the reader did. So much of this podcast was speculation, and it’s hard to be objective in that. We have facts, yes, but we can’t trust them. And I guess that’s my biggest question, even with these “facts” can we really say that the objective parts of “Serial,” which are influenced by outside perspectives from Koenig and just time itself, are truly objective?

      1. Stephen J. West

        I agree! I wonder why we hold Koenig to a high journalistic standard in Serial, where she should worry about being too subjective. Is objectivity really the only means to communicating truth? Perhaps if Koenig’s goal was to try and solve the crime, then the fact that she finds Adnan charming with big-brown eyes is problematic. But if she is trying to expose a truth about the justice system more largely–and how it makes objective decisions based on subjective interpretations of evidence–doesn’t that make Koenig’s subjectivity important to developing that “truth?”

  2. Jackson Lathrop

    Comparing subjectivity and objectivity to a hockey fight was a really strong way to view it. I find that subjectivity v. objectivity is an ongoing battle in almost all pieces of nonfiction. However, in some instances, such as “In Cold Blood” by Turman Capote, it remains relatively objective throughout. Personally, I think this ends up giving the story more of a fiction-y feeling.

    To me, Sarah Koenig presents a nice juxtaposition of subjectivity and objectivity throughout “Serial.” She makes her opinion fairly well known, but never imposes it on the audience. Maybe this is because she really has no idea where exactly to place her opinion, though she obviously isn’t indifferent.


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