For years now, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creative geniuses behind South Park, have been turning the world’s headlines into animated mayhem with episodes of the long-running series still managing to feel fresh and to pull in the viewers.
With the raging debate over the COVID-19 vaccine, and the increased visibility of the QAnon conspiracy theory groups who vehemently oppose it, it’s natural that Parker and Stone would want to explore the controversy through their signature comedic lens.
The South ParQ Vaccination Special, which aired on 10 Shake in Australia, begins with Mr Garrison attempting to enter what appears to be a happening club — techno music blaring through its walls — only to be told entry is being granted to “55 and older and first responders only.”
Turns out, this is the line for the COVID jab, and so erupts a chorus of line waiting complainers on why they deserve to get the vaccination over everyone else.
“I’m a chainsmoker and my wife is 39 pounds overweight,” one character yells, after explaining that people with health issues should be allowed to go first, while another pleads that he has a compromised immune system and that he has genital warts (this is South Park after all.)
Immediately, the episode has encapsulated the issue America, and other parts of the world, have been facing long before the vaccine was rolled out — the people who want it can’t seem to agree on who should get it first (while the anti-vaxxers don’t seem to think anyone should get it because of something to do with Bill Gates and microchipping?).
Worth noting is that once the eldery people of South Park have been vaccinated against the virus, they become the life of the party — an obvious contrast to reality in which the elderly have most often succumbed to the illness.
With Mr Garrison representing former president Donald Trump, and the division caused by his lack of leadership during the peak of the pandemic, the jokes just keep coming. Walking through the local supermarket someone utters in disgust, “look, he ruined our country and now he’s just back like nothing happenend” before a family approaches the teacher to introduce themselves as The Whites. “We Whites have always supported you,” the father says. Yes, it’s slap-you-in-the-face obvious, but it says everything it needs to and more and becomes a recurring theme throughout the episode. Turns out, the Whites are to blame for a lot of things.
The South ParQ Vaccination Special is the first offering we’ve had from Parker and Stone since The Pandemic Special last year and there is plenty of ground to cover where QAnon is concerned.
The group have gained widespread notoriety for their extreme beliefs, including, but not limited to, the idea that Donald Trump was actively working to dismantle a shadowy cabal of elite satanists who were determined to control the masses through a “fake” pandemic.
The believers have also found fame in the dark corners of the internet for their conviction that these same elite satanists harvest the blood of young people in order to extract adrenochrome, so that they may stay forever young — another tenet of the belief system which is mocked during the vaccination special.
During the episode, the local South Park QAnon chapter believes Garrison to be the chosen one and the episode cleverly depicts them decoding one of his profanity-riddled directives (I won’t write what it was here), and coming to the conclusion that he is spreading the good Q word straight to the kids in his class. It’s a brilliant nod to the way in which Q believers have a penchant for using circular reasoning, coincidence and whatever else they can muster to decipher messages from various pillars of their movement in order to further support their cause.
Later in the episode, Butters becomes a member of the “Little Qties” – the children’s version of QAnon, which is created as the organisation seeds tutors into South Park Elementary in order to convert the students to the belief system. This plot development is a witty way to speak to the terrifying reality that these often dangerous ideas are frequently fed to impressionable young people who have the means to spread the word at an alarming rate.
“You guys have a right to say and believe whatever you want,” Cartman tells the Little Qties. “But what you believe is really stupid,” he finishes, promptly invoking the comeback of every Facebook fight, ever, before all hell breaks loose.
In reality, the intersection of the fear wrought by the pandemic itself, and the alarming misinformation around it, is decidedly unfunny but in the hands of South Park we can find respite with retrospect.
As usual, Parker and Stone expertly pinpoint the absurd and extrapolate it into something palatable (and frequently crude.) The world may be no closer to being united but at least, for one hour, we were able to laugh out loud about it instead of crying into a pillow. The South ParQ Vaccination Special is both depressingly incisive and hilariously ridiculous, therefore perfectly embodying the living duality that is pandemic-era America.
However what ultimately grounds the epidsode is the recurring joke that all people really want in life, is a shot. It’s a fact both simple and true enough that surely everyone — even the most diehard conspiracy theorists — can relate to.