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Useless Spleen

"The spleen! Why is it always the spleen?!"
Numerous victims of Shirt Guy Dom from MegaTokyo.

As far as human organs go, there is the common idea that no one knows exactly what the spleen does.

Therefore, a common sight in fiction is that either the spleen is a completely useless part of the human body or it serves some sort of encumbering function. Often Played for Laughs, especially with the implication that damage or loss of the spleen is trivial and harmless.

Because of the Inherently Funny Words effect, spleens are often mentioned for a punchline or joke. This mostly happens in an Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking manner, with the spleen as the jaywalking.

Along with the fact that it's seen as useless, the spleen is often portrayed as a convenient place to get hurt/injured in a fight, possibly because it is somehow considered funny.

In fact, the spleen plays a very important role in the lymphatic and immune systems. It is easily ruptured by blunt or piercing impact and is very difficult to repair (doctors say that it has the natural consistency of a blood-soaked sponge). If severely damaged, often it must be removed surgically or the person in question is likely to bleed to death; once removed, the person has to take care to avoid bacterial and protozoan infections (to which they become more susceptible). A fairly comprehensive treatment of the subject is covered in a blog entry by Dr. Scott.

Compare We Will Not Have Appendixes in the Future. Not to be confused with the useless Spleen.


Examples:

Card Games

Comics
  • Tim Drake loses his spleen to a sword-strike in Red Robin #4.

Commercials
  • Inverted in an ad for Batman: Arkham City, in which Harley Quinn has a voiceover similar to theme park's "keep hands in car at all times" announcements. Harley denies liability for injuries to a series of body parts, including "spleen or other vital organs". The spleen may not be useless, but it's not a vital organ either: you can survive without one, else removing a damaged spleen would not be an option.
  • In one Progressive Insurance ad, Michael Buffer claims he broke his spleen after being forced to hold the last syllable of "Let's get ready to bundle".

Comedy
  • In a song by German comedian Otto Waalkes, the procedures in the human body are humorously described. A man is sitting in a pub and being insulted, and the spleen is terminally bored, asks for something to do and tries to suggest actions, but the brain tells the spleen to shut up.

Film

Literature
  • In The Midnight Mayor, Matthew is injured badly after an attack. When he asks how bad it is, Oda tells him that, among other things, he's pierced his spleen. Matthew asks everyone in the room what a spleen does. Nobody but Oda knows, and she says she's not going to tell him because it would only upset him.
  • Spider-Man
    • In the novel "The Venom Factor" Venom states that when he finds whoever is responsible for the murders (that Venom is being wrongly accused of) he will eat his spleen. Spider-Man comments that this is an odd choice of organ to target and that Venom likely doesn't even know where someone's spleen is.
    • Comes back in The Sinister Six Trilogy where Spider-Man casually jokes about Venom wanting to eat his spleen. He speculates that it's not specifically the spleen he's after, they both just think it's a funny word.
  • In Mockingjay, Katniss is shot. Despite a bullet-proof costume, she suffers bruised ribs and a ruptured spleen.
  • In Tom Clancy's Patriot Games, Jack Ryan's wife and daughter get into a messy car crash thanks to being shot at by terrorists. His wife turns out reasonably okay, but his daughter Sally barely survives, and the surgeon mentions that her spleen was ruptured and had to be removed.
  • The Star Wars Expanded Universe, of all things, contains a notable aversion of this trope. During a dangerous, practically suicidal mission, Anakin Solo sustains a huge wound to his spleen while protecting a loved one. He bleeds to death. And, despite his huge fanbase and his general importance in-universe, they ain't bringin' 'im back.
    Phanan: Yes, I got so angry I had to vent my spleen.
  • Averted in the Stardoc series—or at least for the Jorenian race, for whom it's a vital organ.
  • In Leviathan Wakes, when Holden is performing a sustained high-g acceleration, he complains about the effect on his spleen.
    Holden: My spleen is collapsing. Hurry up.
  • Very pointedly averted in Rainbow Six when Homer Johnson snipes a Western terrorist in the spleen for executing a Littlest Cancer Patient, with the wish, "Die slow, you fuck."
  • Averted in The Odyssey. When imprisoned by a Cyclops, at one point Odyssey was preparing to stab drunk Cyclops in the spleen, as the best chance to kill him. Then he figured they'd need someone to move the rock blocking the cavern entrance and devised a better known plan of blinding him and hiding under sheep.

Live-Action TV
  • Averted on a sketch on All That; a character has forgotten to bring something for show and tell. He takes his friend out in the hall and when they return, he has removed his friend's spleen and is ready to present it for show and tell while his friend stands next to him, doubled over in pain. He ends his presentation with something along the lines of "Humans are incapable of surviving without their spleen," at which point his friend gets worried and then collapses.
  • Married... with Children: In a two-part episode, Bud borrowed money from a loan shark named Vito Capone. ("No relation", he says) When it seemed he'd not be able to repay, Vito said something about extracting Bud's spleen. When Bud asked he'd be able to live without a spleen, Vito said he could. (Not that it matter, since it'd not be the only organ he'd lose)
  • Another little-known organ in Andromeda, while treating Rev. Bem for injuries Trance tells him that he has four broken ribs and a hurt "something that only Magog have."
    Rev: "It's a (something in Magog) pancreas."
    Trance: "Oh, okay. What's a pancreas?"
  • In Boardwalk Empire, Eli Thompson suffers a gunshot wound to the gut and is eager to get back to work after he's fixed up.
    Deputy Halloran: But what about your spleen? The doc said you should rest.
    Eli: [pause] ...how do you rest your spleen?
  • A serial killer in Hannibal is believed to be a black market surgeon who kills for internal organs to donate/transplant. This theory goes out of the window because of this trope:
    Jimmy: We were looking at donor lists for a heart or kidneys. Now we're looking for hearts, kidneys, livers, stomachs, pancreases, lungs... this guy is missing a spleen. A spleen! Who the hell gets a spleen transplant?!
  • On Desperate Housewives, Susan finds out she needs her spleen removed but has no health insurance, so she makes arrangements to marry a gay man in order to get the coverage she needs. The guy's boyfriend becomes jealous about the whole deal, pointing out that he isn't ready to marry him but will marry a woman with "a silly disease." Susan explains that her situation is actually serious, but just sounds silly because of the word "spleen."
  • A few Bodies Of The Week from the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation franchise have succumbed to bleeding out after a bludgeoning attack or collision ruptured their spleen. An aversion of sorts, as it reminds viewers that, whether or not a working spleen is essential to survival, an injured spleen is liable to kill you in the absence of emergency surgery.

Music
  • In a parody of "Ain't Got No", a song from Hair, a line is "Got my spleen (whyever)".
  • There's the line "My spleen just doesn't matter" in "Weird Al" Yankovic's song "Pancreas." Though this might refer to him not caring about his spleen, rather than a statement about its relative usefulness. He only cares about his pancreas, and seems to equally not care about all of his other organs.

Newspaper Comics
  • A common punchline in Brewster Rockit Space Guy involves Winky being attacked by an alien and screaming "Ah! My spleen!"
  • A Far Side cartoon with "Having explored the heart of the jungle, the intrepid explorers now entered the spleen". Another has Edgar Allan Poe with list of crossed-out titles, such as The Telltalle Brain and The Telltale Spleen.
  • In an Over the Hedge strip where Verne gets in a sledding accident his spleen is one of several organs scattered across the landscape. Another time when RJ is trying to convince him to get past a Mayan warrior-priest guarding a fridge he tells him that guy is more likely to grab a kidney or spleen than heart, and you can live without a kidney or spleen.

Tabletop Games
  • Averted in Promethean: The Created; the spleen is vital to Prometheans, as in the distribution of humours, it is the origin of blood. (In reality, it breaks down old blood cells, but alchemy was never exactly on top of biology.) Growing an extra spleen via Lovecraftian Superpowers has multiple benefits.

Video Games
  • In Kingdom of Loathing, the spleen is stated to be completely useless but still cumbersome, because it limits the number of stat-increasing items you can consume per day. A concert promoter is threatened by managers with "having his spleen removed through his nostrils" if he cannot make enough people attend a concert.
  • There is a quest in Fallout 2 which requires you to retrieve someone's spleen which was surgically removed while they were unconscious; failing to return it results in them dying after an allotted time.
  • Rikku in Final Fantasy X-2 has the in-battle quote: "Imma kick you in the spleen!", to which Paine replies "...Spleen?"
  • Jormungandling's spleen is a relatively dangerous enemy in Wandering Hamster which taunts you throughout his belly. Killing it doesn't seem to affect the snake in any way.
  • There are several types of enemies in No More Heroes who yell "MY SPLEEN!" upon getting killed. Considering that they usually get chopped in half, you would think that would be the least of their concerns.
  • Chaos Cultists in Dawn of War exist to die in large numbers. One of their reactions to being killed is "Augh! My SPLEEN!."
  • One of Peacock's responses when being K.O.ed in Skullgirls is groaning out "My spleen...". Notable in that she's a cyborg and it's not known (yet) the extent of how much of her body was replaced by mechanical parts aside from her arms and legs.

Web Comics
  • As seen in the page picture, Black Mage's spleen is a Running Gag in 8-Bit Theater. By Thanksgiving 2002, he's apparently found it.
  • The spleen is the most-mentioned organ in Chopping Block. Butch admits he has no idea what it does, but he claims it has "a certain je ne sais quois."
  • "Has anyone seen my spleen?" is a common phrase in the aftermath of combat in Dork Tower.
  • Shirt Guy Dom from some MegaTokyo filler strips certainly qualifies — there's a reason he has a spear named Spleen Slayer.
  • Played with in The Order of the Stick, when Elan is badly wounded and asks: "How important is one of these?" while holding out an unspecified detached organ. Said wounds were due to being Impaled with Extreme Prejudice, after which he states, "Look, I found all these free swords. They were in my spleen."
  • One of the Pyramid magazine Irregular Webcomic! strips, which can be found here, features a critical hit chart aimed at PC's. "Spleen" was labelled "Susceptible to Infection", which is a nuisance in a fantasy setting (more so in Low Fantasy), but given how many of the other organs are labelled "Death", "Paraplegia" or "Crippled", Ruined Spleen Guy is probably getting off lightly.

Web Original

Western Animation

Real Life
  • Averted every time a patient with a possible infection has their left side palpated by a doctor, as feeling that the spleen is enlarged can be a useful first indicator of ailments such as mononucleosis. Though you can survive without one, with some medication.


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