Comedy Central created quite a stir when it announced that South Park‘s Eric Cartman was going to think he had “Ass Burgers” in last night’s season opener, making it the third prime-time show this fall to feature Asperger’s Syndrome. While some were willing to cut the gleefully offensive series some slack, others agreed with blogger Laura Shumaker, who tweeted to South Park, “All of a sudden everyone has Asperger’s—insulting to community!”
But after watching the episode, many viewers were left scratching their heads at what they felt was a confusing jumble that conflated Asperger’s with depression, and threw in a swipe at the anti-vaccine movement and the idea that Asperger’s may or may not be real.The show begins with Stan’s depression turning everything into shit—literally. “All I see and hear is shit,” he tells the school counselor, who says all the wrong things to a kid showing the obvious signs of depression: “Nobody likes being around a Debbie downer. Your attitude just sucks.” “It’s like he’s completely turned off,” Kyle says of his friend Stan. “It’s like being around a black hole that just sucks the life out of everything.”
Then the counselor gets the genius idea that Stan contracted Asperger’s from a flu vaccination. In turn, Cartman gets an idea to sue the school for giving him Ass Burgers, which he interprets literally. It doesn’t fool the school nurse, but does lead to a promising new business.
The only direct hit at Asperger’s is a vision of an AS research facility as a Matrix-like “secret society of cynics” out to violently enlighten the Pollyannaish populace that they’ve been brainwashed by aliens (or something). Which amused Landon Bryce a bit at thAutcast blog. He writes of this episode, along with the recent Glee episode about a self-diagnosed Aspie: “Yeah, it’s dumb and offensive, but no more dumb and offensive than the way they treat everyone else. There is a way in which being included in the rough-and-tumble satire of shows like these is part of the process of being included in American culture.”
Over at wrongplanet, a site for those with autism and Asperger’s, SoundlessAudio, a 13-year-old diagnosed with AS, was less amused, commenting that while the episode “did include some boring jokes about burgers being spewed from our rears,” it then proceeded to offer a “grotesque portrayal of Aspies” before saying Asperger’s wasn’t real.
Some had hoped creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker would use the episode to educate in the same way they had when Cartman claimed he had Tourette’s. Instead,”Ass Burgers” fell flat on its you-know-what.