*no spoilers here*
From the producers of Serial and This American Life, S-Town (Shit Town) was released last Tuesday, March 28th. Unlike before, all seven episodes were released at once so I was in binging mode for a good 12 hours in order to finish it ASAP. The new series is similar to Serial in that it is a murder mystery story per say, but the feel of the entire show is different. John, a resident of a small town in Alabama, also known as “Shit Town” was the catalyst for the show after he sent multiple intriguing emails to host, Brian Reed, about his hometown and a mysterious murder that seemed to have been swept under the rug.
The murder mystery pulls you in, but John’s genius, and at times vulgar personality, keeps you listening.
Remember after the election when there were all those think pieces about people living on coasts not understanding life in rural areas of the United States? Yeah, well this podcasts seems to be shining light on the life of the often times ignored states. I read an Atlantic article about the podcast and it made a really good point. A lot of the media we consume is placed in L.A, New York, Chicago, etc. This podcast provided a look inside a small town in Alabama, a place with a company named “K3 Lumber” and when asked about the name, the owner replied with “are you one of the lefties disturbed with the election?” Yes, yes we are.
John is a college dropout, who works on antique clocks, is obsessed with climate change, is a genius in some areas, yet quite ridiculous in others. S-Town is 95% white, working class, and the racism is apparent throughout. The podcast doesn’t leave you with a clear conclusion or take away, and by the end of the podcast I was unsure what to do with everything I had just heard. The Atlantic article talks a lot about empathy and I definitely understand how platforms like non-fiction podcasts have the ability to humanize a subject and allow the listener to see a small aspect of someone’s world. I stand by the idea of not judging someone’s community without being a member, but I do believe their are fundamental issues with the racism that can be heard in the show. Personally, I think this show does illustrate areas in which empathy and compassion are appropriate, but also provides a point of discussion for how to critically think about places and spaces that are different from your own. Like I said, I like the series. I listened to it back to back and was fascinated by it all. I think part of the beauty of the series is it’s opened ended conclusion as it is only asking to be discussed, which opens a door for learning on both sides.