Sen Cal Kapimi: Sunk Cost Fallacy in Turkish Dizi Watching
Updated: Feb 3
In the world of behavioral economics and business decision making, “Individuals commit the sunk cost fallacy when they continue a behavior or endeavor as a result of previously invested resources (time, money or effort) (Arkes & Blumer, 1985). This fallacy, which is related to loss aversion and status quo bias, can also be viewed as bias resulting from an ongoing commitment.” And, this is the trap I fell into with my weekly reviews for Sen Cal Kapimi, a laborious task that I undertook with the desire to uphold themes of love and fairness as we navigate life. I was drawn into the story with what I felt was a female centric narrative, brought to life by well sketched out characters. I wanted to use my interpretive skills to uphold admirable female characteristics that allow us to take charge of our destiny in a male dominated world.
Over time, even as the show lost its way and the characters lost their initial charm, I still held on due to a bias from my ongoing commitment to my readers and as an ode to all the time I had already spent on it. I did not acknowledge that economic theory also suggests that “at any moment in time, the best thing to do depends only on current alternatives and the only things that matter are the future consequences.” The rationale for my wanting to do these reviews had long disappeared and yet, in a complex set of reasoning I cannot fully articulate, I attempted to find the sparse gold nuggets in each story, weaving a narrative for the characters I felt I could still root for.
The truth is, hope is not a strategy. In my hopes that the characterizations will take a turn towards the potential of the story as I had imagined from the first few episodes, I had discarded my logic. I had allowed myself to accept layers upon layers of female depictions I can neither respect nor really defend.
MEN AS ANCILLARY CHARACTERS
Apart from Serkan, whose general character consistency of being a prickly exterior with a soft heart is now demolished with this entirely cliched amnesia trope, all the other males are rather static characters. We have Erdem the court jester, Engin the clueless lover, Ferit the gentle paramour, Seyfi the devoted sidekick and now Alex, the amorous Italian and Deniz, the lovesick teenager.
The rest of the story lies on the shoulders of women and unfortunately, over the course of the tale, we have seen strong, capable women take on all shades of human fallacies starting from the selfish to the spineless, devious to the diabolic, self-serving to the delusional, empowered to the entitled. And with these characterizations, which have taken away the depth of almost all the female characters at some point or another (excepting Melo and Leila), I have come to the end of my rope of trying to justify such creative choices. I can no longer fall prey to the sunk cost fallacy.
In one single episode, character arcs have been introduced that I find irredeemable. The initially misguided notions of Aydan being entirely too self-absorbed have now been cemented in a manner that is unforgivable. The insensitive ways she has treated Eda is a mother figure at her worst, especially to an orphan who lost her parents because of Aydan’s husband.
Selin’s obsession with Serkan has taken a capable, vulnerable woman to being a self-serving emotional abuser.
Piril, a professional, accomplished partner at the firm cannot separate between right and wrong, and does not take a more emphatic stance against the injustice perpetrated by Selin.
Ayfer, a middle-aged woman who capably raised two wonderful girls, is busy pursuing her juvenile love story and remains busy with her petty pursuits while her ward emotionally and physically disintegrates.
Ceren, who has the potential to have a consistent portrayal of inner strength, is reduced to being the haughty blonde at will.
I don’t even wish to get into the female characters come and gone, many of whom had no inner consistency nor admirable qualities. The one person I did respect is Babanne, who never hid her ambitions nor intentions, and till the premature end of her appearance, she delivered on her atonement. She is the only one who truly empowered Eda without any desire to take away her sense of self once she understood how much Eda was willing to fight for Serkan.
Eda, who started her journey as a feisty, self-assured young girl, has been reduced to taking emotional abuse of one kind or another from Serkan, or from someone from his squad, from even before their first meeting. Showing a girl who keeps coming back because of the promise of this epic love, but keeps facing predicaments where she is tested as a person, is a subliminal message about accepting abuse of various kinds in hopes of a greater prize, where the prize remains in her grasp for less time than not. Constant misery and suffering that destroy our inner sense of being is not the kind of love I wish to write about.
I have every admiration for a talented cast who can play so many different shades of a character as they are written, and I wish each and everyone the best. Hande, in particular, did extremely well in this latest episode in showcasing her frustrations, anguish and pain, but this does not erase the several episodes where she was reduced to playing a self-important socialite who had no expressed plans for what she wanted out of her life and love, circling on one issue of a wrong choice by Serkan that he repeatedly asked forgiveness for.
Kerem’s nuanced depiction of Serkan of the earlier episodes, whose defenses eroded at every turn with Eda, is now reduced to a gaslighted individual whose logic has failed him. He knows he was engaged to Eda, everyone other than Selin tells him how much he had loved Eda, he sees Eda in great physical pain, and yet he is not shown to be saddened nor really affected by her misery at all, does not question his memory flashes nor his reactions to Eda.
The deliberate Serkan who cannot help but take the path of integrity, who cannot help but be helpful to those around him despite his gruffness, has become wooden in his responses. In his pre-amnesia state, Serkan deliberated for a long time before taking a step towards Eda and, yet, because his current fragile psyche feels threatened by the possibility of embarking on a path he has been fed was not of his choosing, his broken logic propels him to propose to Selin.
I have been with patients of brain trauma, and I can appreciate how blackout periods can change perceptions and behavior, but given that he is being shown as his restored self from a year before, when his logic was his biggest ally, to even see that be dulled has eroded the last drop of characterization from the original promise of the story.
The romance genre, with a predominantly female audience, thrives on stories of capable young women who forge their path through life while embracing positive changes, coupling with partners such that both gain equivalently. This is the formula the queen of romance Jane Austen established - where marriage and union is not a function of logic but love, where the love makes us better people, and where the ultimate union is a fortuitous celebration of a lasting love. This is a great read by the Jane Austen Literary Foundation that illustrates the social norms of the times Austen continually poked at.
In Sen Cal Kapimi, it has been a regression of such a structure where a story about a feisty girl who manages to tame the wild has become about a girl having to morph into whatever tiny space is given to her, with her boundaries defined by a rotating set of characters who have neither consistency nor honor in how they behave. It has ceased to have a social commentary that questions norms in thought-provoking ways.
The producers will keep weaving a story until they are forced to cancel, and kudos to them for optimizing for their economic gains in an industry that is facing heavy competition on multiple fronts. The fact is that in addition to their natural competition within public TV programming, they are also contending with a growing, impressive library of streaming content within their borders that are incredibly creative, cohesive and contained in their storytelling, and also affordable to access. In 2021, user base for streaming content in Turkey is expected to have a year on year growth of greater than 10% [source: statista].
The traditional lucrative path of selling to international markets, especially in countries with weak local programming, will get cannibalized as these streaming services also enter these markets, allowing consumers to leapfrog into accessing higher quality Turkish content at affordable prices. As the economics of the industry change, I just hope current producers do not fall into the same sunk cost fallacy I described earlier, and not change tact because they are too vested in their current biases.
With this post, I end my journey of writing episode reviews for Sen Cal Kapimi. I am sure the story will take creative paths towards an epic reunion between Serkan and Eda but, for me, the female narrative for majority of the characters cannot be recovered enough from where they have been taken. With Melo, Leyla and Ferit excepted, I cannot, in good conscience, champion any character in his or her entirety, as one we should aspire to, in life or in love.
 First Principles of Economics, Lipsey, Harbury; Finance & Accounting for Business, Ryan
Article copyright (c) mh.