South Park: Cartman Takes On the Anti-Vax Movement - and Pays the Price

WARNING: The following contains major spoilers for South Park's 300th episode, "Shots!!!"

Season 23 of South Park finds creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker taking some of the franchise's biggest jabs ever. China has come under fire for its censorship and other human rights issues, while even Disney has been in the show's crosshairs for its business operations.

And the series has once more found time to take a shot at parents -- something the earlier seasons often did. This time, South Park wades into the arguments of people who believe vaccines are dangerous, aka Anti-Vaxxers.

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The Anti-Vax or vaccine hesitancy movement consists of parents who refuse to vaccinate their kids, a problem identified by the World Health Organization as one of the top 10 global health threats last year. Despite the overwhelming scientific consensus about the safety and efficacy of vaccines, these individuals don't trust them. But rather than a parent, South Park presents Eric Cartman as the individual against vaccination.

It turns out that new legislation requires all South Park school children to be vaccinated, but Cartman refuses to do so. He squeals like a pig every time his mom bribes him to head to the doctor, running away at the moment of injection. The aversion is serious when someone like Cartman refuses any and all gifts in exchange for being vaccinated. It's not that he hate needles, though -- he's merely done some research and come to the Anti-Vaxxer conclusion that vaccines will harm his health.

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Now, it's worth noting that there have been multiple public debates around the medical, ethical and legal issues related to vaccines. Vaccine hesitancy stems from multiple factors including a person's lack of confidence in vaccines (including mistrust of the vaccine and/or healthcare provider), complacency (the person just does not see a need for the vaccine or the value of the vaccine), and at times, convenience (access to vaccines due to logistics or financial means). But Cartman thinks being vaccinated will make him artistic, as the stats he finds indicate there's a 0.1% chance of this happening.

South Park changes the 'side-effect' here -- in the real-world Anti-Vaxxers have argued vaccines make kids autistic. So the show decided to demonstrate  how dumb this argument sounds in the face of empirical scientific data that's proven this isn't the case. Ergo why the series pokes fun at the movement by having Cartman believe vaccines will make him artistic. He hates hippies and art as a whole -- well, except if it's making him money --- as a result, Cartman does not want the injection. In fact, his claims are valid in his eyes because after all his peers are vaccinated, his belief in his own superiority makes him think vaccination will bring him down to their level.

Cartman doesn't care how many students he gets sick. He goes to Congress and uses his cause a rallying point. He's as selfish as can be but resolute in his stance. He does not want to move one step closer towards becoming a hippie. Ultimately, Cartman does fight the system and win. As he's wrangled by the other parents at a vaccine rodeo and literally lays on his butt on the verge of getting his injections, his mom Liane jumps in and takes the shots for him.

We don't know if this is her first set of shots but she simply feels like she has to let her little "poopie-kins" live freely and be himself. A heart-to-heart with Randy Marsh earlier taught her she needs to let her loved one express himself, even if it's wrong.

However, while Cartman feels he's had the last laugh, when he goes looking for her in the aftermath, he realizes he won the battle but lost the war. His mom's back is to him as he calls out to her. Then, he sees the reason she's neglecting him is because she's painting fruit. Liane is totally absorbed, and Cartman screams out in pain at the realization that she's become artistic. In saving his own skin, he sacrificed his mom. Cartman has indeed shot himself in the foot because, now that Lianne is "woke," their relationship may be damaged irreparably in his eyes.

Starring Trey Parker and Matt Stone, South Park Season 23 airs Wednesdays at 10 pm ET/PT on Comedy Central.

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