And so long as this was our anti-vaxx image -- a hippy Hollywood Jenny McCarthy sort -- the media was quite happy to laugh and laugh at how stupid anti-vaxxers were. Which, to be clear, was richly deserved.
But now, of course, we see that the image of the anti-vaxxer has shifted. It's no longer some out-of-touch flower child. It's the Republican base. And suddenly, the media has decided that this isn't funny anymore. Now it's a policy dispute, see? Now it is a matter of principles, a dilemma between admittedly important scientific and health care necessities and deeply-rooted American values of freedom. Anti-vaxxers are not silly cranks and are not to be treated that way. We can make fun of left-wing hippies, but heaven forfend we show anything but the utmost seriousness and respect towards exurban churchgoing conservatives.
It's worth noting that there were, well in advance of the COVID pandemic, plenty of signs that the stereotype that anti-vaxx sentiment was a province of the hippy-dippy left were at best outdated. For one, even before anyone was thinking about COVID we were already seeing Republican politicians start to dip their toes into anti-vaxx conspiracy theories. For two, we should not have been so quick to assume that crunchy-healthful-living and conservatism are oil and water. Marjorie Taylor Greene owns a cross fit gym! The anti-vaxx private school academy in Miami, owned by rabid Trump backers, provides meal options that would normally read like the far-right's parody of a soy-boy ("Our menu is consistently 100% organic, 100% non-GMO, gluten-free, light on dairy, no added sugar, never processed, always fresh and locally-sourced when possible. We incorporate Superfoods such as ginger, hemp, quinoa, spices such as cinnamon, turmeric, curcumin, and herbs such as rosemary and basil.").
But it took the pandemic to make it clear that anti-vaxx sentiment in America is primarily a conservative phenomenon. And once we did realize that, and realized alongside it that anti-vaxx paranoia wasn't just a matter of hippie punching, well, the media suddenly decided that it just wasn't that much fun to joke about it anymore.