Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Somebody get Tintin a helmet!

Moving to a new country may radically alter everyday habits. Stores don't carry your favorite cereal. Perhaps the bread is different...and much, much better. Transportation may stretch your comfort zone. And then there is TV.

It took us a few weeks before we even dared to turn on the TV, at which point we were lost. What is this "cable" of which you speak? But we were going through a Little House phase in bedtime stories (sometimes Pa can be a real self-centered jerk!), so when we stumbled on "La Petite Maison Dans La Prairie," we were hooked. Sure, it was dubbed...and oddly predictable...but it gave all of us something familiar to latch onto while also providing a dash of culture.

For quite some time we have watched very little actual TV, though we've blitzed and binged through several series on Netflix. But that's different here, too, as the catalog varies from country to country. Scrolling through the list of kids' shows, we came across a LaGrand family classic comic in TV form: Tintin.

Tintin contains the perfect ingredients to fascinate and irritate. The young hero of ambiguous age is bold, often smart, sometimes thick, and terribly unlucky*. His friends include a dog who is loyal but sometimes displays a lack of judgment, an on the wagon/off the wagon former sea captain always itchin' for a fight, a professor too stubborn for hearing aids, and the detectives Thomson and Thompson (Dupont and Dupond in French) who are easily duped every other episode into thinking that the kind-hearted Tintin has turned to crime. At least one of us is known to shout, "How is this fooling you?!" at the screen.

(*How many other characters outside of Grey's Anatomy have you known to have survived multiple plane crashes, a last-second reprieve from a firing squad, being set afloat at sea in a sealed coffin, and being shot at in nearly every episode? And we're only in season 2.)

It didn't take us long to notice that it's a fairly violent cartoon. During the opening credits Bea and I will shout together:
"Concussion!" "Watch the suspenders!"




"Close call!"

It got to the point where we wrote down every injury from a single episode:
  • an airplane crashes in the Himalayas. Are there any survivors?
  • a table with coffee gets overturned, resulting in scalding hot coffee in the face
  • a rushing Tintin collides with a porter in the street, and both tumble to the ground
  • someone eats a dangerously hot pepper
  • a tired character walks into a tree
  • Snowy the dog falls off a cliff into a raging river after getting into the Captain's whiskey
  • the Captain trips into a pole and sees stars (concussion!)
  • the Captain gets buried in an avalanche
  • Tintin falls down a crevasse for his second concussion of the episode
One episode. It's quite amazing.

It was so amazing that I considered tabulating all of Tintin's injuries for a full season, noting his blatant violations of concussion protocols. (In fact, I can't recall an episode when he didn't get a concussion.) Motivation hits me in odd ways, I admit, but it's best to not always launch a new project when the idea first occurs.

One of the biggest fears for a research scientist is getting scooped. You may have done beautiful, brilliant work, but if someone beats you to the publication, your work is in vain. You'll be lucky if you can publish it anywhere. The problem is even worse if you miss a relevant publication before you begin. More than once I've found something I wanted to do already in the literature, and those papers made my work that followed much, much stronger.

So I turned to Medline.

It turns out I am not the first or even the second person to want to document Tintin's medical history. One paper focused on Tintin's agelessness, speculating that he suffered from hypogonadotropic hypogonadism (HH) due to lack of testosterone (though his aggressiveness might belie that claim):

Gerritsen notes that one potential cause of HH in children is head trauma...the author may be on to something...

This brief comment from the editor of the American Journal of Neuroradiology carries the analysis much further:

He references the large number of concussions that Tintin suffers (as cataloged here). Furthermore, he details the alcoholism and anger management troubles of Captain Haddock and speculates that Thompson and Thomson may be suffering from a neurodegenerative disease such as Alzheimer's. But the real gold mine comes at the end of the article and the references, where Castillo informs us of similar articles about Asterix and Winnie the Pooh!

But two other papers deserve special mention, as they performed all of the heavy lifting of injury tabulation, saving me from doing something I might later regret:

This appears to be the article that inspires the others here

In the first article, the authors (an associate professor and his two young children) carefully tabulate every one of Tintin's concussions from the comic books and evaluate their duration (for how many panels is Tintin affected?) and severity (how many different objects float around his head?). They conclude that Tintin lost consciousness a minimum of 50 times in the books. Our chants at the start of each episode are vindicated.

Next to the others, the final article is a tour de force. Four tables lay out Tintin's health impairments (HIs) by country, extent of trauma, cause of trauma, and type of HI. The fun starts in the abstract: "We found 236 events leading to 244 HIs, 13 kidnappings, six hospitalisations and two surgical procedures. There was a median of 8 HIs/adventure (range 1-30/adventure)." Later they created their own scale (the Herge system, in honor of the author) to rate the severity of Tintin's concussions. They close with humorous thoughts on the nature of fictional characters while also encouraging Tintin and friends to display "a modicum of common sense."

Nicely done, doctors. Thank you for the amusement and for saving me from a time-consuming project. I'll leave it to the reader to determine if it was a good idea.

No comments:

Post a Comment