‘It’s hell being well-known’: second violent dying of Serial podcast character raises ethics questions

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‘It’s hell being well-known’: second violent dying of Serial podcast character raises ethics questions

That fame can include a worth is a truism most related to stars of movie and display or different arts. However the inhabitants of 1 small city in rural Alabama, deep within the American south, have found the reality of that notion through one of the well-liked mediums of the web age: the podcast.

Woodstock, a speck on the map midway between Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, was the topic of the hit 2017 podcast S-City, which adopted the usually weird goings-on, and much more complicated relationships, in a small American group the place nothing was ever fairly because it appeared.

Some are questioning simply what the worth of that fame was as – for the second time – an premature dying has struck one of many central characters, stunning not solely Woodstock however followers all over the world.

Final Sunday Tyler Goodson was fatally shot by police in what legislation enforcement described as a standoff, saying Goodson, 32, had “brandished a gun” on the officers. His dying – he was declared “mind useless” on Tuesday – got here eight years after the suicide of his pal and antiquarian horologist John B McLemore.

Each males have been recognized to tens of millions of S-City followers. As Alabama’s state bureau of investigation started an investigation into Goodson’s dying, the Woodstock mayor, Jeff Dodson, stated: “Tyler was well-known and beloved on my own, his household and this group. That love extends far past because of the S-City podcast.”

Whereas the circumstances of Goodson’s confrontation with police are but to be absolutely understood, a second dying within the orbit of the seven-episode podcast has renewed questions concerning the hit present, and accusations of media voyeurism.

Goodson instructed the Related Press quickly after S-City launched – it was downloaded or streamed greater than 80m instances – that it had introduced a deluge of consideration on him and the city, however had not accomplished him any favors.

“It’s a tragic story, particularly in case you’re a part of it,” Goodson, who had labored as a tattoo artist and plant employee, instructed the information company. A 12 months later, after S-City had received a Peabody award, Goodson was questioning whether or not or not taking part had been value it.

“It’s hell being well-known with out the wealthy half,” he instructed Esquire in 2018. “If cash got here together with it, I wouldn’t really feel close to as dangerous about it.”

Final weekend, police spent three hours making an attempt to speak Goodson out of a home earlier than they shot him. Moments earlier than Goodson was killed, at 1.39am, he posted a message to Fb saying: “Police bout to shoot me down in my very own yard.”

Six years in the past, the six-and-a-half-hour podcast was launched by the makers of Serial, which launched as a by-product of This American Life and have become a 2014 phenomenon when Sarah Koenig, a former Baltimore Solar reporter, spent greater than a 12 months re-investigating the 1999 homicide of an 18-year-old highschool scholar, Hae Min Lee.

From left to proper, Julie Snyder, Serial co-creator and S-City government producer; Ira Glass, This American Life creator and host; Brian Reed, S-City host; and Sarah Koenig, Serial host. {Photograph}: Sandy Honig

That was adopted by the story of Bowe Bergdahl, the US soldier who left his publish in Afghanistan in 2009, then was captured and held by the Taliban for 5 years and later charged as a deserter.

The third installment of the collection, S-City, hit tougher. It adopted the story of McLemore, who had written to This American Life in 2012 asking them to look into an alleged homicide in Woodstock, which he known as Shit City.

The story went from true crime to McLemore’s life, the lives of his relations and his shut pal, Goodson, and their not-quite father-and-son relationship, which included hanging out at Goodson’s tattoo store, Black Sheep Ink, and constructing a maze in McLemore’s yard.

It was within the brutal third episode that McLemore’s household, and Goodson, take care of his suicide by consuming potassium cyanide in June 2015, aged 49.

Goodson received a commemorative tattoo of his pal and instructed Esquire that “John B was my employer and simply concerning the closest pal I’ve had. He acted like a father determine, as a result of he knew my sperm donor wasn’t value a rattling. Hell, I realized so much from him … He was in all probability the very best instructor I’ve ever had.”

Two years later, S-City dropped, and that personal tragedy turned a public one. “I used to be simply clusterfucked,” Goodson recalled to the journal. He stated he cried all through. It was the primary time he realized McLemore had had intimate relationships with males.

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Goodson said he did not care to judge. “I had my thoughts, but it wasn’t none of my business on his sexuality and all that,” he said. “I don’t have nothing against homosexuals, but it was too much for me. I felt like they took that a little far.”

Reviewers had begun to voice concern that the makers of the show had intruded too far. Writing in the Guardian, Gay Alcorn wrote that “McLemore’s agonies are laid out for our entertainment, with scant reflection by the podcast’s reporter as to the ethics of what he’s doing. Journalism requires a purpose beyond telling a ‘good’ story.”

The New Yorker’s Sarah Larson said that S-Town had helped advance the art of audio storytelling “but it also edges us closer to a discomfiting realm of well-intentioned voyeurism on a scale we haven’t quite experienced before”.

By then, S-Town had gripped the public’s imagination. Fans of the podcast, Goodson said, dropped by the property he shared with his wife, four daughters, son, grandmother and uncle.

Goodson tried to cash in on his fame, selling T-shirts with “Black Sheep of S-Town” on the back via Facebook. Reality TV opportunities came up, but he turned them down partly because he was in a court case over personal belongings, including two buses and an 18-wheeler trailer, on McLemore’s property that he had been prevented from accessing by his heirs.

A blue-painted storage container with a white door and white garage door, and a lacquered wooden sign that says ‘Woodstock Community Library’.
Woodstock, Alabama, where S-Town podcast was based. Photograph: Matthew Teague/The Guardian
A big tummy with the words ‘Feed Me’ tattooed on them, with an orange T-shirt held up to display this, alongside a tattooed arm.
Justin ‘Huck’ Hardin, whom the world now knows as Feed Me Guy, in Woodstock, Alabama. Photograph: Matthew Teague/The Guardian

His life began to unravel. Goodson pleaded guilty to third-degree burglary, third-degree theft of property and third-degree criminal trespassing. He received a suspended 10-year sentence with five years of probation.

McLemore’s estate filed a claim in Alabama circuit court claiming that the podcast’s producers exploited McLemore by airing salacious details about his sexual orientation, depression and other mental health issues without consent.

“None of these ‘mysteries’ are matters of legitimate public concern, nor were these matters that McLemore contacted Reed to investigate or write about,” the lawsuit, which was filed under Alabama’s right of publicity laws, said. “Instead, they generally involved the most private matters of McLemore’s life.”

In 2019, a judge called the claim that the producers had used McLemore’s identity for commercial purposes “plausible”. A year later, in 2020, it was settled out of court. A lawyer for the McLemore estate said he was satisfied the creators of the podcast acted responsibly and appropriately in their reporting.

That had little bearing on Goodson. Two years earlier he had described Woodstock as “the same old Shit Town”. Last week the Woodstock mayor’s office said they were not able to discuss what had happened until investigators delivered a report. Separately, the county coroner said Goodson had been declared “brain dead” on Tuesday night at a hospital and his organs were being prepared for donation.


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