Radio Freethinker

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Saturday Stub: Anti-Vaccination in South Park

Posted by Ethan Clow on October 8, 2011

Welcome to another Saturday Stub, where I take something interesting and talk about it…yah yah yah. You know the rest.

This late edition to Saturday comes from a recent episode of the frequently obscene cartoon South Park, the show recently aired its 15th season midseason premiere episode entitled “Ass Burgers” (this might be a good time to say that this Saturday Stub will probably contain spoilers for the midseason premiere of South Park. Boy, that’s a sentence I never thought I’d write. Oh and some of the humour in South Park isn’t for everyone…so language and content warning.)

The episode is the second part’er of the episode “You’re Getting Old” in which one of the boys, Stan discovers he’s becoming a cynical jerk. Much to his horror, the music he used to like, the movies and TV shows he used to like are now being perceived as shit. Literally, he hears fart noises in his music and sees pieces of shit in movie trailers… anyway. The episode ends on somewhat serious note as it appears that the series might be coming to a close as the main character loses his friends and no longer is interested in the juvenile humour of his youth, which is also something of an double joke as well since South Park is also an example of crass humour.


Anyway as we pick things up in “Ass Burgers” Stan is still depressed and cynical. As he arrives at the bus stop for school, his now estranged friends are complaining about getting the HPV Vaccine. Unaware that the vaccine is only for girls, the boys start arguing over about why the government is forcing them to get vaccinated so they “don’t get warts in their vagina’s” (quoting the show) One of them explains that some people think getting vaccines causes autism and aspergers which they of course think is spelled “ass burgers.”

I initially thought that was going to be the point of the episode, South Park is known for their rather ruthless skewering of pop culture memes and such, which had me momentarily concerned they might be on the side of the anti-vaxers. However I was wrong on both counts. The episode, it turns out, only used this anti-vaccination material as jumping board for the rest of the story.

Basically, the boys go to school while still debating the vaccine issue until at school Stan has an emotional outburst telling them all to shut up. He’s sent to the counselors office where he’s mistakenly diagnosed with aspergers syndrome because he was given a flu shot last year. This leads to short portion where Stan’s parents claim he was given aspergers because the government “forced vaccinations” on the children and President Obama signs a bill (called Stan’s bill) ending mandated vaccinations for school children. I thought this is where they might satirize the anti-vaxers by having epidemics break out or something but actually this plot point pretty much ends.

I’m not sure but I think they are lampooning the anti-vaxers (I could be wrong, its somewhat subjective) but there is a line where Stan’s dad gives a press conference where he says “and then the government comes along and with one shot, turns your child into a mentally incapacitated freak!” This could be spoofing the extremely negative way anti-vaxers claimed autistic children were “damaged” or “broken.” (See Paul Offit’s book Autism’s False Prophets)

Like I said, this plot point is abandoned after this and the show goes on into a typical South Park direction with more fart jokes and a odd Matrix spoof.

So I’m a little conflicted about this. On the one hand, I think they were mocking the anti-vax movement. But they never really made it clear that the anti-vax movement is full of shit (to use language from the show) The problem with just including it without a debunking or major ridicule, is they add to the zeitgeist or popular culture another voice (even a crude one) that vaccines are linked with autism. It’s not very reasusring to believe, but little anecdotes like this in pop culture seem to have a powerful effect on people.  It just becomes one more “source” people remember when they think of vaccines and autism. It’s not like they cite South Park as a reliable source of information but it enters the memory as just another “hit” for the scientifically implausible connection between vaccines and autism.


3 Responses to “Saturday Stub: Anti-Vaccination in South Park”

  1. Anderw said

    Been to Finland much, you literal-minded piece of trash?

    The Finnish government and major insurance companies announced Wednesday they will pay for lifetime medical care for children diagnosed with narcolepsy after receiving the swine flu vaccine.
    “The compensation will provide much-needed financial assistance for the families, although it cannot take away the emotional distress caused by this condition,” Social Services and Health Minister Paula Risikko said in a statement.
    Finnish and international researchers recently found a conclusive link between the Pandemrix swine flu vaccine and new cases of narcolepsy, a chronic nervous system disorder which causes people to often uncontrollably fall asleep.
    The Finnish Pharmaceutical Insurance Pool (LVP), which represents insurance companies, said Wednesday it would honour all insurance claims in this category.
    LVP said it would review each claim individually to calculate the scope of the payout.
    The Finnish government meanwhile agreed to cover any medical costs exceeding the insurance claims.
    In Finland, 79 children between the ages of four and 19 developed narcolepsy after receiving the Pandemrix vaccine in 2009 and 2010.
    Of these cases, an unusually high number, 76, also suffered from bouts of cataplexy, suffering hallucinations or paralysing physical collapses, according to Finnish research.

    • Ethan Clow said

      Normally I would delete a comment that opens with an Ad hominem attack.

      I don’t know of any move by the Finnish government to provide funds to children who were “injured” by vaccines. Feel free to provide some sources for that random claim. Otherwise you might want to look up ways to structure an argument without insulting people.

    • Yiorgos said

      This is still being studied. But here is an interesting wrinkle that may shed some light on what is going on (see It might turn out that the virus is really the problem, not vaccines:

      “A new study by the Stanford University School of Medicine examined narcolepsy incidence in relation to upper airway infections and a H1N1 vaccine (not Pandemrix) in Chinese patients. Their principal conclusion was that an increased incidence of narcolepsy was seen following a wave of upper airway infections (such as H1N1 influenza). They found no correlation between vaccination and narcolepsy. According to the authors “The new finding of an association with infection, and not vaccination, is important as it suggests that limiting vaccination because of a fear of narcolepsy could actually increase overall risk.”[28] Since narcolepsy is now believed to be an autoimmune disease [29] the authors suspect that these upper airway infections trigger an immune response which leads ultimately to narcolepsy in susceptible individuals. Pandemrix contains two adjuvants designed to provoke a stronger immune response. These were not in the vaccine used in China.”

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