Bug on the couch

The 10/23 Wayno/Piraro Bizarro, a Psychiatrist cartoon, with a bug — specifically, a mosquito — on the couch (Wayno’s title: “Interspecies therapy”):

(#1) Consider the mosquito, how it grieves (if you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 8 (an unusually large number) in this strip — see this Page.)

Not just the Psychiatrist meme (with all of its conventions), but also:

— the intersection of the human world (in which people go to therapists) and the insect world (in which mosquitoes have six legs, antennae, compound eyes, and proboscises)

— the bug-on-windshield trope

— Rorschach ink blots, as used by clinical psychologists

— autopsy photos

— fatal polytrauma, such as sometimes occurs in car crashes

Fully appreciating the cartoon then calls on a wide range of knowledge, both factual and cultural. I’ll take for granted here the (extensive) conventions of the Psychiatrist meme and go on to the rest.

The translation between worlds. The cartoon is set in the ordinary human world, but this world has been in part transported to a metaphorical world, of insects, so that one of the characters, the therapist’s patient, is both a human being, in ordinary masculine clothing (white shirt and trousers), and also a mosquito, with six legs  (two corresponding to ordinary human legs, the other four to human arms), antennae, large compound eyes, and a proboscis for sucking blood (yes, that makes the mosquito female, but corresponding to a male human — but then nobody said that the translation would be straightforward or simple).

(I leave to others the exercise of describing how the details of the six cartoon mosquito extremities correspond to human hands and feet.)

Note: cartoon anthropomorphic mosquitoes differ in how closely they approximate actual mosquito anatomy. The one above, with large compound-like eyes, lies on the side of accuracy; more commonly, cartoon mosquitoes have clearly human eyes, with pupils and other details that allow them to convey emotions. (All the examples I’ve found require a fee for use, so I won’t be showing you any of them here, though you can of course find examples by searching for cartoon mosquitoes.)

Bug splat(ter). Bug versus windshield (UK windscreen). In my 3/7/14 posting “More cultural allusions”: “a [metaphorical] trope about bugs and windshields”, about bugs getting squashed against windshields. In the metaphor, the bug is the loser, the windshield the winner. Some days you’re the windshield, some days you’re the bug.

If you’re the bug, you become bug splat /bug splatter, as here:

(#2) Bug splatter from the Simple Green cleaner site “How to Clean Bugs Off a Car”

A photo of one such bug splat is what the mosquito sees in #1: a picture of the horribly crushed body of a single mosquito accident victim.

When worlds collide. What the therapist is presenting to his mosquito patient in #1, however, is something quite different (though it looks distressingly splat-like): a Rorschach inkblot, a clinical tool designed to assess a patient’s emotional world and their personality. The therapist is attempting to elicit the patient’s description of what they see in the inkblot.

This is the point at which the two worlds of the cartoon collide: mangled insect corpse from the highway or inkblot from the therapist’s consulting room? Collide, absurdly and ridiculously, from the point of view of amused readers of the cartoon, though from the mosquito’s point of view, quite tragically.

Inkblots. More on the components of the scene, beginning with those blots.

From AHD5 on the N + N compound noun inkblot [or ink blot]:

1. A blotted pattern of spilled ink. 2. A pattern resembling an inkblot that is used in Rorschach tests.

A blot in sense 1, in the logo on the Inkblot Productions site (“creating quality, commercially viable films and television shows, for Nigerian and international audiences”):


On sense 2, see my 1/10/21 posting “Rorschach v. Magritte”, about the Rorschach ink blots (and about Hermann Rorschach). A collection of the Rorschach blots:


You will see that these blots are all symmetric (created from a blot on a card, which was then folded over while the blot was still wet, to match the blot with its mirror image). According to Wikipedia,

Rorschach experimented with both asymmetric and symmetric images before finally opting for the latter. He gives this explanation for the decision: Asymmetric figures are rejected by many subjects; symmetry supplied part of the necessary artistic composition [AZ: whatever that means].

Note that, while the blot in #1 is certainly splat-like, it is also bilaterally symmetric.

Autopsy photographs. From Wikipedia:

An autopsy (post-mortem examination, …) is a surgical procedure that consists of a thorough examination of a corpse by dissection to determine the cause, mode, and manner of death or to evaluate any disease or injury that may be present for research or educational purposes.

… After the body is received [at a medical examiner’s office], it is first photographed.

There are ghoulish sites where these photographs are collected.

But the real-life counterparts to mosquito splat photos involve more than routine deaths; they are photos of fatal polytrauma.

Polytrauma. From Wikipedia:

Polytrauma and multiple trauma are medical terms describing the condition of a person who has been subjected to multiple traumatic injuries, such as a serious head injury in addition to a serious burn. … It has become a commonly applied term by US military physicians in describing the seriously injured soldiers returning from … Iraq and … Afghanistan. The term is generic, however, and has been in use for a long time for any case involving multiple trauma.

… In civilian life, polytraumas often are associated with motor vehicle crashes. This is because car crashes often occur at high velocities, causing multiple injuries.

The Wikipedia entry is about polytrauma as a medical treatment concern. When, however, the polytrauma is fatal, the victim goes right to the medical examiner and gets its autopsy photo. The most extreme instances of fatal polytrauma — in high-speed car crashes, falls from great heights, and similar events — rival the devastation of mosquito splattering.


One Response to “Bug on the couch”

  1. Bob Richmond Says:

    I found “autopsy photograph” the most confusing part of this cartoon, which I saw in the morning paper today. And that’s odd, because I’m a pathologist and have photographed a lot of autopsies.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: