Watching Series and Existential Crises


Do I Still Watch Series?

Yes, I still try to find time to. I used to be a Big-Fan of series. Only recently I started to appreciate it. I should ‘ve written this post a while ago, but a discussion today prompted me to articulate it here.

If asked, I would say watching series is a waste of time. This answer is not free from the context it is asked, or even who is asking; so different people might get different answers. The reason is that those different people are likely to be the different me at two points in my life; when I was simply a Big-Fan, and when I began to appreciate. Many people I know are simply big-fans of watching series.

During my Big-Fan days, I was simultaneously following about 30 series that were currently airing, so I had about 30 episodes to download and watch every week!

Many Big-Fans are the epitome of time wasting. The average teenager/youth with access to series spends three hours daily watching series (no data, just estimation in my head). Someone once pointed out to me how computer-savvy my generation is; pointing to the proliferation of young people with laptops (in Nigeria). That is misleading, because most laptops are simply dvd-players or a (flat) tube for watching series (and movies). Some computers have never even seen a word processor like Microsoft Word, some have the trial version of Microsoft Office that came with it and it is not surprising to click on Microsoft Word only to be prompted that it has either expired or that it should be setup for the first time of opening it.

Apart from entertainment, a major reason big-fans have is to while away time. We are slaves to the clock (not time): when we setup alarms before going to sleep; when we race to meet lectures/office because the clock tells we are running late; when we watch the time expectantly towards end of a lecture/work-day… We usually start our day by paying homage to our master by futile attempts to trick him when we snooze our way into his favor, five minutes at a time. Later on we pray to God. Our relationship to the clock is slavery, because it either demands haste from us, or we seek delay from it. However we are strangers to time because it is soft spoken compared to the Clock, though insidious When faced with “free” time, many of us are clueless what to do with it. We avoid confrontation with time because it might get us to contemplate about those meaningful things that might shake the foundations of our existence. So we shy away from intimacy with time using past times as distractions. A very popular past time is watching series, and the most shy among us are the Big-Fans!

Definition: For the sake of this post we shall describe Existential Crises as that moment in a person’s life where they seek answers to the foundations of their existence. This is the moment where people’s response makes them become either born again, or “Ustaz”. Managing Existential Crises properly is important because it has lead to fanaticism in the past. From the Muslim view of the natural state of man (Fitrah), Existential Crises is bound to happen when the soul yearns to find meaning, which is the souls way of seeking God. However, many other things have been used to quench this yearning.


Being a Big-Fan is a symptom to be taken seriously. It indicates a deep psychological crises, a life lacking meaning, a numb and tranquilized mind, an anxiety towards confrontation with time, a fear of intimacy with time; murkiness for reflection. The natural (correcting) order of things, through contemplation on our lives, would have demanded some form of meaning in our lives by triggering an Existential Crises. However watching series numbs that corrective tendency. The cathartic and continual property of series makes it so easy for us to extend a piece of our lives into the series that we feel an empty space whenever a series finale runs. We feel a hole is created in our souls. However, there has always been a hole which is to be filled with life meaning/purpose, instead with fill it with the next available series. Unfortunately, series cannot fill a hole not meant for it, rather it takes our attention away from the hole. We remain un-whole.

It is interesting that in Arabic, series is Salsalah, which also means chains. Are we simply watching series, or are we chaining ourselves (souls) in the process?

In contrast to feature films (movies), series are just bad investment of time! Every time you make a decision to begin watching a series you are not only investing the time to watch one episode. No, you are investing the (future) time you don’t have yet to watch all the other episodes as they are released. You are also investing time in the coming years which you must use to follow up on the subsequent seasons. Say you started watching the season 1 of the series 24 in 2002. Then you would be committing yourself to spend 24 hours of 2002, and 24 hours for each of the subsequent 8 years. Therefore by simply taking the decision to watch season 1, you are investing 194 hours of your life to Jack Bauer and CTU :).

These criticisms of watching series (not necessarily the ones above) have lead some to make watching series almost sinful. I disagree, even though there’s more negative stuff to be added about watching series. One important criticism to add here is the consumerist feature of popular series; it is like the more series you watch, the cooler you are. But it is not only consumerist from the consumer side, it is also from the producer side because the series are designed to tease and meet your carnal fantasies, give you the gossipers ultimate reality (knowing every juicy story about someone’s life), pausing episodes/seasons just where you will be craving for more… More of what?!

More entertainment. Less time. Less life meaning. More numbness of the mind. More impotence of the soul.

Before I go into my justification for such an ostensibly bad habit, let us explore some aspects of the entertainment industry. Given it’s consumerist doctrine (as listed above), it relies on controlling the consumers. Consumers, in media as in other products, are controlled with one key assumption, that they give in to their psychological insecurities and sweet sins: e.g. the sweetness of gossip makes us want to know how Ross will finally propose to Rachel (Friends), or if Bree would take Olson back after all he has done (Desperate Housewives); our fantasies on fame and sex want to live the life of Vince (Entourage); Our un-doable immodesty in the real world want to take a peak at Shirtless Mc Steamy (Grey’s Anatomy); We won’t be caught having sex, at least not that way, but we don’t mind the sex scenes between Ann Boleyn and King Henry (The Tudors) etc. The point is: without conscious awareness, will and effortful control, we are robots at the hands of the series/movies industry (as in other industries).

One other aspect that is capitalized on so much is (what I call) our gossipy-curiosity which is the reason we get “hooked” to a series. We DO get addicted to some series. We project our lives into the fiction, at the expense of awareness of our real world. It is not unhealthy to “escape” reality once is a while, but it is something else to feel uncomfortable/anxious in reality that one craves to go back to fiction; as if the fiction is the person’s reality. Many lovers of TV have reported being depressed with their lives, but they don’t feel depressed when watching series; you might have experienced depression after watching a season especially in a short time. I wonder what gives some of us the moral high-ground to criticize how absorbed kids get into cartoon channels these days. So I identified gossipy-curiosity as a major tool used to control me.

On the other hand, series (and movies) expose us to a lot of new experiences; even if fictitious and virtual. It is like travelling without moving. The issue then is how accurate is the depiction of reality in series? (This same question could be directed at international news channels). However experiences are not limited to representation of facts, but also the experience/insight of new concepts and different philosophical worldview. It then becomes imperative for one to equip themselves with Critical Thinking before delving into series in order to avoid being misled; philosophically and fact wise. With a modest mind of Critical Thinking, watching series can provide opportunities to broaden our horizons.

In light of all these goods and bads of watching series, I have prepared a formula (or philosophy) for myself on how I engage with series in the following two statements. I only watch a series if it brings something new to the table (my head; can broaden my horizon). I focus on the concepts/themes/facts rather than the juicy story line so that I am not vulnerable to gossipy-curiosity.

Once upon a time, I would simply get any series and start watching episode with only a vague or no idea of background information, as long as the video looks entertaining. My new philosophy requires me to first find out what a series has to offer me that I am not already familiar with because my time is precious. The new philosophy has also allowed be to be able to quit watching ANY series after the first season, without a haunting regret.

Let me illustrate with an example. When Game of Thrones was recommended to me, it took me a few months and repetitive recommendations before I decided to look it up on the internet. I was immediately excited (and surprised) to find out that it was produced by HBO. HBO has produced some of my best series because of how realistic they are; The Wire and The Sopranos etc. So I was expecting realism but then Game of Thrones is set in a fantasy world. I was interested in how these will come together. This is bringing something new to my table; or rather mixing two things already on my table in a way I had not envisioned. Now I have watched 2 or 3 seasons of it, I am quite satisfied with how it has broadened my mind, but now I can’t be bothered to follow up with other seasons; even though it’s the type that you get hooked-on. Another example is Boardwalk Empire which brings to the table a fact-inspired history of USA Organized crime and its part in politics and economy of the country; features historical figures like young Al Capone, young J Edgar Hoover, Ponzi (of Ponzi Scheme) etc. I watched the first two seasons, and I feel no urge to continue… but I might. Then there is Downton Abbey which also brings to the table a fact-inspired history of England through the domestic life of a Yorkshire aristocratic family. Very nice. However I can’t be bothered to follow up with the romance of Lady Mary and Mathew.

On the other hand I don’t see why I should waste time watching umm… they are too many to mention but you know them; they are all those that would be difficult to make a case for bringing anything new to the table, if anything at all. Even with comedy series, one of my best is The Office (UK and US), and that has brought a novel approach to making series. Then a series like Big Bang Theory is only worth the time spent when they make the geeky science jokes; so it kinda refreshes your science memories. Then UK comedies are quite good and worth wasting some time e.g. Yes Minister which gives such an insight into public service in the UK, at the time.

All I have been trying to say is accept that watching series is a waste of time, then examine if what it brings to the table is worth spending time on. It might help productivity in your life to seriously consider breaking free from the gossipy-curiosity tendencies. Perhaps it might break us free from the chains (Salsalah) of series and allow for intimacy with time which will eventually trigger the long overdue Existential Crisis you need to give your life some meaning! We need a revolution of Consciousness!

[Perhaps we should discuss how to manage Existential Crises soon :)]



Filed under Aha! Lemmi Scribble that Down, Open Source Ideas

4 responses to “Watching Series and Existential Crises

  1. Auwal Anwar

    Incredible! Bilal, write a book. Please.

  2. Anonymous

    Wow. Content-wise, I fully agree with 80% of what you’ve said. Style-wise, I like the setting of this article; it allows for personal connection… stuff like the “Ustaz” joke are just so funny. Thank you for writing on this topic. On a second thought, I probably should share the 20% I disagree on. Yes, watching movies (or series) is a painful waste of time. For me that is hard fact. Even movies (or series) that “bring something new to the table”. I mean, I believe you have to look beyond just that. Perhaps more in the direction of how relevant that “new” thing is to your life. Like, seriously, knowledge is always good but knowing about the history of USA organized crime e.t.c. will, with all due respect, have no immediate impact in your life. Its just a piece of information sitting in your memory. Might as well learn about something of direct relevance if you ask me.

    • Ooops I thought I had replied… Thanks 🙂
      I think I understand where you are coming from, and but you might have a better argument.
      Let us not forget that there is entertainment (pleasure seeking) involved which is a major reason we end up watching anyway. If we discard entertainment, then we are left with serious problem because the implication of that would be that everytime you want to treat yourself to a scrumptious apple then you should think of how many homeless the peice of that apple could feed for lunch. That is all well and very charitable but I think we should acknowledge that we deserve some pleasure for ourselves. Now that is like watching series; because there are more important things doesn’t mean we should totally abandon it; it means we should put it in its right place in terms of frequency (rather than in terms of doing it or not).
      Then we think about our choice of apple over other fruits, and over apple flavoured Fanta. And the reason we decided apple for today. It is a different story if we just happen to grab any fruit or apple flavoured drink we come across. Our choice of apple may have to do with certain vitamins we find in it. Given that you are deficient in some vitamins not found in apple at the moment, it doesn’t mean you should abandon the apple, it means you you need to make sure you get yourself some of that vitamins you need after finishing this apple. You will notice the important thing here is that you didn’t harm yourself because you got something beneficial. The vitamins in the apple is what your choice of apple “brings to the table”. It doesn’t mean that is what you need.
      So your primary aim is to derive pleasure, which is itself healthy, but you want to benefit from that pleasure exercise rather than the opposite.
      Does this analogy make sense? It is along this analogy that I arrive at my conclusion

      • Anonymous

        wonderful analogy. wonderful. makes sense. thanks for taking the time to reply. now let me just re-read it one more time ok?

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