Stem Cell Research Saves Lives…Of Cartoon Characters

29 03 2011

Popular adult cartoons, Family Guy and South Park, satirize the stem cell and abortion debates

By: Natalie Shuster

It is a miracle! After a stroke, caused from eating hundreds of burgers at McBurgertown, Family Guy star, Peter Griffin, was cured using stem cell research. And the most amazing part? According to Griffin it “only took five minutes. They injected me with a little bit of that fetal crap and I was better in no time!” (Season 6: Episode-McStroke)

Just weeks later, South Park resident, Kenny McCormick, was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy and told he only had weeks to live. The solution? Take a woman’s aborted fetus, transport it to a medical facility and use it for stem cell research (Season 5: Episode-Kenny Dies). Shortly after, Christopher Reeves also campaigned for stem cell research for the handicapped in the small town of South Park, Colorado. By cracking open fetuses and sucking out their juices, he was able to regain mobility, and even superpowers like the character he once portrayed, Superman (Season 7: Episode- Krazy Kripples).

These episodes of Family Guy and South Park serve not only as satirical commentaries on the stem cell debate but also to question the general public’s understanding of stem cell use and research. However, when viewing these shows it is important to ask, are these witty and comedic skits reflective of the general public’s lack of understanding? Do they provide the public with false and exaggerated information on the scientific benefits of stem cell research? Or do they help educate viewers to the issues at hand?

Science is often criticized for portraying negative stereotypes, depicting researchers as the “mad scientist,” or the new scientific discovery as a “monster” technology. Comedic shows generally exaggerate and inaccurately depict the implications of the true data. However, research has shown that the simple presentation of scientific information and demonstrations of the “system of science” actually helps to promote involvement and education about new technologies.

Multiple studies, such as those conducted on media attention and support for food biotechnology, have concluded that heavier viewers of television were generally more supportive of technology than those individuals who watched fewer programs. It is proposed that by simply viewing television programs, regardless of the factuality of the information or the depiction of the technology and scientists, viewers are given an underlying support for science. They are primed to be more receptive to the ideas of new innovations and technologies.

While a cartoon program may not affect all viewers in the same manner, the simple exposure to a new idea or technology has generally been viewed in a positive light by researchers.

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