Thursday, March 31, 2016

Thumb on the Scales

Many fans of the podcast Serial were disappointed when season 2 moved out of the "true crime" genre to cover the story of captured U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl. Though I've found myself just as intrigued by the new season, I have been looking for another place to scratch the true crime itch. Some quick Googling (coupled with a timely mention in Entertainment Weekly) led me to the podcast Sword and Scale.

Sword and Scale seems to be a labor of love for its creator and host, Mike Boudet. And the man has a seriously dark love to labor over. Each roughly one hour episode examines one particular crime -- ranging from kidnappings to murders, both historical and contemporary. The podcast does not shy away from grisly details, often incorporating panicked 911 calls, horrifying interviews with survivors, and chilling narratives. If you're not put off by the truly macabre, then Sword and Scale will very quickly hook you.

But then it just as quickly UNhooked me. Put simply, it plays quite fast and loose with the "true" part of the "true crime." It started out gradually in the first episode, as Boudet narrated the entire events of a gruesome multiple murder, incorporating some oddly specific details in the timeline he could not possibly have known for certain. I noticed it, but chalked it up to acceptable artistic license to present the story in the most compelling way.

Then I got to Episode 5, the first installment of a two-parter about a massive organized crime operation. It began in gripping fashion, describing the abduction of 12-year-old Johnny Gosch in 1982. But soon it segued talk of a child prostitution ring run with elements of ritual devil worship and ties to U.S. government officials. I quickly found myself wondering "how have I not heard of this?" And it took only a few seconds on the internet to find out the reason why -- it's all a hoax. Though there was definite criminal activity at the core of this story, the vast conspiracy claimed around it was found baseless by a grand jury. It's the sort of fever dream coughed up by people who think the moon landing was faked and that 9/11 was an "inside job." Mike Boudet was devoting two whole hours of his "true crime" podcast not to examine what drives people to create or believe this sort of nonsense, but to instead report the story in complete earnestness.

So instantly, I was out. There's a time and place for spinning a good yarn. In my mind, this wasn't it.

If you have a taste for dark tales, and don't particularly care if they're fiction being peddled under a banner of truth, then Sword and Scale may well be for you. It was simply not what I was looking for. I don't give it an F, in deference to the brief period of time before the glass shattered, in which I mostly enjoyed the podcast. But I'd still only grade it a D.

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