Flat on his back at the solstice

Today’s Wayno/Piraro Bizarro, framed as an instance of the Psychiatrist cartoon meme:

(#1) (If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 6 in this strip — see this Page.)

The patient is lying on the therapeutic couch, but he’s also flat on hs back suffering the affective disorder that comes to many with the winter solstice (Wayno’s title for the cartoon: “Bummer Solstice” — playing on summer solstice).

Then the title “Tropical Depression”, ordinarily referring to a meterological phenomenon, involving lowered atmospheric pressure (depression) arising in the tropics  (the geographical band surrounding the equator)[*see note after this paragraph]; but here referring to a mental condition (depression, characterized by lowered energy and affect), in this case, specifically, seasonal affective disorder (aka seasonal melancholy) triggered by the short, dark, cold days around the winter solstice — which the patient seems to be counteracting with cultural symbols  associated with the bright, hot, and humid tropics (Hawaii, to be specific): beachcomber hat, lei, coconut drink, ukulele, and Hawaiian beach shorts.

[*Note added 1/17: this account of the tropical in tropical depression is grossly oversimplified. For a more accurate statement — from an actual meteorologist — see Sim Aberson’s comment on this posting.]

So: ambiguity. From NOAD on senses of the noun depression:

1 [a] feelings of severe despondency and dejection: self-doubt creeps in and that swiftly turns to depression. [b] Psychiatry a mental condition characterized by feelings of severe despondency and dejection, typically also with feelings of inadequacy and guilt, often accompanied by lack of energy and disturbance of appetite and sleep: she was referred by a psychiatrist treating her for depression. 2 [a] a long and severe recession in an economy or market: the depression in the housing market. [b] (the Depression or the Great Depression) the financial and industrial slump of 1929 and subsequent years. 3 [a] the action of lowering something or pressing something down: depression of the plunger delivers two units of insulin. [b] a sunken place or hollow on a surface: the original shallow depressions were slowly converted to creeks. 4 Meteorology a region of lower atmospheric pressure, especially a cyclonic weather system: hurricanes start off as loose regions of bad weather known as tropical depressions. … ORIGIN late Middle English: from Latin depressio(n-), from deprimere ‘press down’).

The senses in 3 are the older ones, close to the etymological original ‘pressed down’. The others are metaphorical developments from this, involving various ways in which something can be pressed down: mental state in 1; the economy or market in 2; atmospheric pressure in 4. The cartoon plays with 1 vs. 4.

At the same time, the cartoon plays with a subtler ambiguity in tropical ‘having to to with the tropics’. Background, from NOAD:

noun tropic: [a] the parallel of latitude 23°26ʹ north (tropic of Cancer) or south (tropic of Capricorn) of the equator… [c] (the tropics) the region between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn.

The adjective tropical can then be merely a geographical term (as in the meteorological expression tropical depression, or in tropical rainforest or tropical medicine); or it can index the cultural associations of the tropics, in references to tropical drinks, tropical music and dances, tropical clothing, and the like.  The cartoon title “Tropical Depression” then plays on these two senses of tropical as well on two senses of depression.

Next, on seasonal affective disorder, from Wikipedia:

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a mood disorder subset in which people who have normal mental health throughout most of the year exhibit depressive symptoms at the same time each year, most commonly in winter. Common symptoms include sleeping too much and having little to no energy, and overeating.

… SAD in the United States affects from 1.4% of the population in Florida to 9.9% in Alaska. SAD was formally described and named in 1984 by Norman E. Rosenthal and colleagues at the National Institute of Mental Health.

And finally, the culturally tropical symbols in the cartoon. Most of these are familiar or have been taken up in other postings on this blog. Two deserve a bit of commentary.

First, the beachcomber hat — that’s what it’s known as in the clothing business — of straw. From the Windy City Novelties site:

(#2) ad copy: “Our 16″ natural straw Beachcomber Hat is the perfect accent for your Luau or Beach party. Get a feel for the tropics at your party with this straw Beachcomber Hat”

And then the coconut drink: a drink (probably alcoholic) in a whole coconut with holes drilled in it and a straw inserted in one of the holes — a form of coconut drink I think I’ve seen only in the comic strips. In real life, the top bit of a coconut is sawed off and a drink is mixed in the hollow of the coconut, as in these piña coladas (complete with straws) from the lovetoknow site’s “21 Coconut Rum Drink Recipes That Are Irresistibly Easy”:


2 Responses to “Flat on his back at the solstice”

  1. A riot of hibiscus | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] from my 1/15/21 posting “Flat on his back at the solstice”, this […]

  2. Sim Aberson Says:

    Strictly speaking, the “tropical” in tropical depression is not geographic, but refers to the structure of the system. Tropical depressions/storms/cyclones are fed by the energy from warm water, which tends to happen in the tropics, but they frequently happen far outside the tropics. For example, Tropical Storm Alpha this past year developed just off the coast of Portugal and made landfall there. There were also at least two in the Mediterranean this past year.

    The opposite of a tropical cyclone, the extra-tropical cyclone, feeds off the energy from temperature gradients in the atmosphere. Hybrids between the two are called sub-tropical cyclones. So, the progression is X –> sub-X –> extra-X, which makes no sense, but that’s what sometimes happens when scientists name things.

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