The metaphorical representation of depression in short, wordless animation films

  • Charles Forceville, Sissy Paling
  • Visual Communication, September 2018, SAGE Publications
  • DOI: 10.1177/1470357218797994

How is "depression" audiovisually represented in short animation films?

Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash

Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash

What is it about?

Abstract concepts such as depression can by definition not be visually represented in any literal way. The only way to suggest depression visually is therefore via metaphors. In this paper we discuss nine short animation films found on YouTube that all communicate in one way or another how it feels to be depressed -- using visuals, music, and sound and (virtually) no language. Although there are many ways to label the specific metaphors that occur, we found two basic metaphors in our nine films: "depression is a dark monster" and "depression is a dark prison." We have the impression that several of the films were made by animators who had first-hand experience of being depressed. Animation is a medium that has opportunities to convey information in ways that other media (written language, live-action film) have not, or not to the same extent. Sound and music can also contribute to conveying dimensions of depression. One of the interesting things we found was that while most of the time the depression monster was an enemy, it was also sometimes a cherished friend the patient could not do without.

Why is it important?

Worldwide more than 300 million people suffer from depression. In many cultures the subject is a taboo topic. We believe that animation films about depression offer opportunities to talk about the affliction. Friends, siblings, or even therapists might ask a depressed person to look at the films and ask him/her which one best represents their experience. Since metaphors have an internally "logical" structure, it may be useful to attest which particular metaphor appeals most to a depressed person, since the kind of metaphor chosen also determines the best strategy for dealing with it: if the depression is a monster, you need to get rid of it, while if itis a dark prison, you need to get out of it.

Perspectives

Dr Charles Forceville
Universiteit van Amsterdam

It would be great if people who have personal or professional encounters with depressed persons -- and depressed persons themselves -- would find the films, and their analyses, useful starting points to discuss the experience of being depressed.

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http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1470357218797994

The following have contributed to this page: Dr Charles Forceville