The Ethics of Nonfiction in S-Town: Should it Have Been Made?


s-town_featureHave you listened to the S-Town podcast? Whether your preference is fiction or nonfiction, it’s just good storytelling.

But if you are interested in nonfiction and the ethical dilemmas a writer can be confronted with when taking on real life and real people as subjects, you might be particularly interested in listening to S-Town.

Aja Romano gets to the crux of the thing in the opening of this Vox article:

S-Town, a stunning new podcast hosted by This American Life producer Brian Reed and produced by the creative team behind Serial, is brilliant, complicated, frequently troubling, and often painfully beautiful.

I’m not convinced it should have been made.

As I was listening to the last two episodes of S-Town. I thought this same thing. “Should this be out there?”

It’s probably a question some people in my family asked themselves when they read my book, in which I write openly about being molested by a babysitter as a child and being in a polyamorous, open marriage as an adult. But ultimately, those topics had mostly to do with me. And so, the ethical question was an easier one.

Here’s my take on the ethics of S-Town: John B McLemore invited the media (S-Town Producer Brian Reed) into his life. Repeatedly. So I don’t feel so concerned about the exposing of secrets where it concerns him. But I do feel more conflicted about some things that were revealed in the later episodes about some of the secondary players. They didn’t ask for that. And exploring that material must’ve been a lot harder for the S-Town production team to sort out.

What do you think? If you’ve watched S-Town, what are your thoughts on the ethics of it? Should it have been made?

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About Author

David Olimpio grew up in Texas, but currently lives and writes in Philadelphia. He believes that we create ourselves through the stories we tell, and that is what he aims to do every day. He is the author of THIS IS NOT A CONFESSION (Awst Press, 2016) and he spends most of free time helping his dogs maintain a poetry photoblog. He has been published in Barrelhouse, The Nervous Breakdown, The Austin Review, Rappahannock Review, and others. You can find more about him at, including links to his writing and photography. He Tweets and Instagrams as @notsolinear.

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