Syphilis and Measles-Driven Primetime Plotlines Prove Pandemics in the Zeitgeist


Fox viewers were still humming "Come Rain or Come Shine" and dialing 1-800-GOKEY when they were suddenly confronted with a nightclub prowling, syphilitic vampire on Fringe. (The first of its kind on primetime, I believe, if you don't count a 1998 Lifetime airing of Love at First Bite.) It turns out the highly virulent strain -- which adds several rows of razor sharp teeth and an appetite for spinal cord fluid in those it infects -- was developed by the U.S. government as an agent of germ warfare, and was sitting right under our noses under high-security lockdown towards the back of a Chinese restaurant.

Meanwhile, in the 10 p.m. hour, Law & Order: SVU featured Hilary Duff in a guest starring role as an obnoxious teen mother who buries her baby in a shallow grave after finding it dead one morning. She thinks she killed it by spanking it too hard, but it turns out the baby had succumbed to measles, having not been inoculated with the MMR vaccine (that's the really important vaccine that some parents, like Jenny McCarthy, caution against because they think it causes autism). This leads to a lengthy courtroom debate over a parent's right to choose whether or not their kids should be able to get polio.

Neither really offered the kind of pandemic escapism we were seeking after subjecting ourselves to four days of wall-to-wall, Swine Flu Attack '09: It's Here, and It Will Kill You, Make No Mistake (But Don't Panic) coverage gracing every edition of the local, national, and 24-hour cable news.

Still, my mask is off to both shows. You nailed the deadly, viral dread in the air before we even knew we were breathing it.