by Elizabeth Oldfield
Friday, 23
September 2022
Review
07:00

‘Eureka Day’ gives anti-vaxxers a voice

A new play sensitively probes one of society's biggest fault lines
by Elizabeth Oldfield
The Eureka Day cast

Eureka Day, a play written by Jonathan Spector and transferred from the US, opens at the Old Vic today. It tackles our vaccine moment with surprising sensitivity and painful humour, leaving audiences, as all good ‘issue’ plays should, perhaps less sure of their accepted beliefs.

The title refers to the name of a progressive private school in California that is so aggressively inclusive that staff are encouraged to use gender neutral pronouns for all children. It borders on a parody, with polyamorous affairs and teachers agonising over the lengthy choice of options for racial self-identification. But this is all brought to a halt by an outbreak of mumps, and the subsequent revelation that many parents have not vaccinated their children.

This discovery threatens to crack the delicately structured community in half. During a savagely funny scene, a school Zoom call from quarantine descends into warfare in the chat log. Some parents who want to keep their children ‘pure’ are worried about Big Pharma and the possibility of autism. But they are witheringly dismissed as ‘patient one’ and their children as ‘Typhoid Mary’ by another father. It prompts sarcastic, satisfying laughs as online smackdowns so often do.

And yet we learn afterwards that many of those ‘anti-vaxx’ parents helped build the school. They show up to cook and clean and serve. They are charitable, even if their earnest nature is ridiculed by other parents. The reasons for refusing to give their children the vaccines vary: some parents are concerned about Big Pharma profiteering off its own product, while another reveals that she lost a child to SIDS shortly after their first vaccination. When this woman – readers who wish to avoid spoilers should now skip ahead to the next paragraph – is eventually pushed out of the school because of a new mandatory vaccine policy, it feels somehow both faintly sinister and deeply sad.

It also feels unavoidable. This is because, despite the sensitive and broadly empathetic portrayal of the parents who won’t vaccinate, the horrendous consequences of mass vaccine rejection can’t be dodged. Indeed, an inoculated child who has caught mumps from an unvaccinated student is in an induced coma off-stage for much of the second half.

Although this play was written before the Covid-19 pandemic, the parallels are inescapable. While it is a different disease from mumps, the reaction to those who were unvaccinated in the play and in real life are similar. Many (but not all) have demonised and attacked ‘anti-vaxxers’, but it is always important to understand each other’s reasoning, to get beyond caricature.

That’s why I spoke to Paul Kingsnorth on my podcast, The Sacred, about his concerns with the way the Covid vaccine has been rolled out. At the end, I reflected the anxiety that giving air time to thoughtful and credible commentators like Paul who are publicly questioning the machinery around the Covid vaccine might be irresponsible in public health terms. But his fears deserve a fair hearing; contempt and disdain are addictive drugs which are tearing through our social bonds — and empathy through art and conversation are antidotes. Not because we should ultimately agree to disagree, but because it’s the only hope we have for finding a way through.

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Daniel G
Daniel G
12 days ago

One difference between the vaccine for mumps and the injection for covid is that the former might stop you getting mumps and thus prevent the scene in the second half. The latter doesn’t stop transmission in any meaningful way after 25 weeks (as the Goverment admits) and is probably ineffective transmission-wise sooner than that.
The mumps vaccine also uses older technology that is far better tested for long term side effects.
Lastly, mumps is a far more dangerous disease than covid for the vast majority of children.

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
12 days ago
Reply to  Daniel G

Someone should do a play about the Covid vaccine – except our artists – like almost everyone else – are card carrying members of the regime.

Aaron James
Aaron James
11 days ago
Reply to  Peter Johnson

I think a Zombie Movie called ‘BOOSTERS’ would be good….

a movie where everyone getting a vaccine just gets the illness faster, more often, and worse symptoms – so the scientists decide the problem with the vaccines is the dosage is too small…. so…..

Simon S
Simon S
12 days ago

“an inoculated child who has caught mumps from an unvaccinated student”… if a vaccine is not effective, why take it?

Brett H
Brett H
11 days ago
Reply to  Simon S

This sort of logic escapes a lot of people.

N Forster
N Forster
12 days ago

“Contempt and disdain are addictive drugs which are tearing through our social bonds”
Well said.

Aaron James
Aaron James
11 days ago
Reply to  N Forster

If they wanted to do a play which was analogs of what just happened with covid it would be named

‘LEECHES’ and about how some Bill Gates style Leech farmer discovers that putting leeches on people twice will stop monkey-pox, and before you know it there is a year long lockdown wile enough leeches are farmed tor every one to have 2, and the anti-leechers are fired, hated, kicked out of schools and University, and in Austraila sent to camps….even though this was only tested on eight mice, two of them who died after being sucked dry….

Then……

Michael Gillette
Michael Gillette
12 days ago

Interesting that the vaccinated child caught mumps. There has been an ongoing trial against Merk (patent holder of the MMR product) brought by former scientists at the company alleging that Merk fraudulently fudged their trial data on the mumps to show 95 percent efficacy, knowing that their product had waned well below that figure. It is a complicated subject no doubt. Removing indemnity from these makers can only happen if fraud can be proved, A lot is at stake.

Last edited 12 days ago by Michael Gillette
Richard Craven
Richard Craven
10 days ago

About 1% of the people I see walking around Bristol City Centre are still masked. Curiously, of this 1%, 90% are Chinese. Whether Chinese or otherwise, continuity maskers look absurd.

Paul K
Paul K
9 days ago

Always good to be compared to a Nazi.
More than anything, this reflection surprised me in revealing how unthinking much of the ‘mainstream’ response to the vaccine concerns has been, which in turn explains the rabid hatred of ‘anti-vaxxers’ and how that was so swiftly normalised, along with the campaign of censorship and misrepresentation that went along with it.
The covid vaccines are not comparable with vaccines for polio, or indeed mumps, for example, not least in terms of their largely untested tecnological novelty; and neither is the approach to them. I don’t remember the last time people were sacked for not taking a mumps vaccine, or called ‘fascists’ in newspapers up and down the land, even while unprecedented attacks on civil liberties were rolled out.
And yet in some circles it is as if this information simply doesn’t exist. To a certain kind of ‘artist’, the notion of even engaging with this reality seems very risky; even edgy. Personally I put this down to social pressure. But the result is that ‘art’ becomes a tool of the mainstream agenda, in this as in so many other ways.
As ever, the best art and thinking can be found around the edges, where people are just less scared.

Last edited 9 days ago by Paul K
Richard Craven
Richard Craven
9 days ago

Vaccination seemed like a good idea initially, when Wuhan Flu was a potentially serious disease, and I was myself willingly vaxxed and boostered. Now that with its latest iteration the disease has evolved into just another minor ailment that makes you feel a bit under the weather for a few days, I don’t think I’ll bother with further vaccinations.

B A
B A
6 days ago

“Why are the vaccinated children getting mumps?”
This question, being repeated in these comments, just shows what a poor job public health educators have done in explaining how vaccines work–that is it’s not just an individual protective, but a community one.
I think this is why so many people get frustrated with people like Paul who continue downplay (or downright ignore) the role the vaccine has had in reducing severe disease and death worldwide in favor of a victimization narrative.
A narrative which he supports with a persecution complex in which he would have you believe that everything and everyone is out to get you.
I understand and appreciate the skepticism around Big Pharma, some of which is certainly needed, but I think it’s more nuanced than just pharmaceutical companies = bad.
Yes, pharmaceutical companies are making big profits and the ethics of those profits are ripe for criticism, but it’s also delivering something of value. Same can be said of how most of us get our food, have energy delivered to our homes, and have petrol to put in our gas tanks. What he’s describing is capitalism. So instead of positing that vaccines are bad because the mechanism behind them has a profit motive, maybe attack the reason there is a profit motive instead?
I’m glad Elizabeth had Paul on the podcast because I found his comments on the proliferation of tech and surveillance interesting. But she the opportunity to press him on a couple of issues that seemed incongruous with his theses and didn’t, which was disappointing.
For example, Paul is quite skeptical of large systems where you are told what to think and how to behave. And yet he converted to Christianity (no exaggeration) one of the most controlling, rigid entities the world has ever seen. It would have been interesting to hear how he reconciles that.
He also kept bringing up his persecution as a Christian and how he’s being silenced and ostracized…while being interviewed on a podcast. And he doesn’t seem to have a lack of bylines in widely recognized media outlets either.
This kind of complaint is perhaps the most common (and contradictory) leitmotif of hard right talking heads. If Paul doesn’t want to be categorized as such, perhaps he shouldn’t parrot them.

Paul K
Paul K
2 days ago
Reply to  B A

A quick response to your response:
Firstly, I think that the ‘success’ of the vaccines cannot be judged at this point, given the lack of information available and the facts which continue to unfurl before us. I suspect that they are indeed somewhat helpful for vulnerable people, and have written as such. On the other hand – and this is a reality which people like yourself relentlessly downplay – the rising indications of widespread and damaging side-effects, up to and including death from heart problems and strokes, is piling up daily, and in peer-reviewed publications too. The other reality is that the vaccines have singularly failed to do what they were sold as doing: prevent infection and transmission. It’s not surprising, given how rushed they were. What is surprising is the uncritical, fawning and disturbingly authoritarian way in which they were pushed upon us.
If you don’t find that problematic, there is nothing I can really say. But I can’t help noticing the complete lack of engagement with these realities, in favour of a narrative in which critics of what happened are dismissed as a paranoid loonies.

A narrative which he supports with a persecution complex in which he would have you believe that everything and everyone is out to get you.

I’d be interested to see some examples of this claim. Perhaps you could provide them for me.

What he’s describing is capitalism. So instead of positing that vaccines are bad because the mechanism behind them has a profit motive, maybe attack the reason there is a profit motive instead?

I’ve written relentlessly about the damage done by capitalism worldwide for 25 years, including in a number of my books of reportage, and here on Unherd. Perhaps you have missed it.

‘He also kept bringing up his persecution as a Christian and how he’s being silenced and ostracized…while being interviewed on a podcast.’

No, I’ve never said that once. I did discuss the reality that being a Christian in the modern West will see you regarded with suspicion and sometimes outright hostily, but this is not represented by what you have said here. ‘Persecution’ is not a word to be thrown around lightly. And I am clearly not being ‘silenced.’

‘Paul is quite skeptical of large systems where you are told what to think and how to behave. And yet he converted to Christianity (no exaggeration) one of the most controlling, rigid entities the world has ever seen. It would have been interesting to hear how he reconciles that.’

‘Christianity’ is not an entity. It is a faith, a path; a ‘Way’, as the first Christians called it. The behaviour of particular churches at certain times in history is a separate issue, and there’s plenty to argue about there. I’ve said regularly in various places that I believe the church should not be tied closely to political power. I continue to believe that. But at the same time, for every example of a repressive and controlling church (and there have been plenty) there is an example of a liberating and sacrificial one. It’s just that the first of these narratives is the popular one today.
The choice to follow Christ is not to submit yourself to a ‘controlling, rigid entity’ – it is to submit yourself to God. You can choose to do that or not to do it. But the last time I looked, the church was not requiring smartphone-enabled proof of baptism in order to visit a cafe.

Last edited 2 days ago by Paul K
Alan Gore
Alan Gore
12 days ago

Has anyone done a play from the viewpoint of people who think the Earth is flat? After all, if you have never traveled long distances, it’s a reasonable assumption that one might make and we should be more sensitive to the opinions of people who ignore scientific facts. Reality is just a social construct.

R E P
R E P
11 days ago
Reply to  Alan Gore

Even in the Middle Ages thinking the world was flat was a minority view…

Brett H
Brett H
10 days ago
Reply to  Alan Gore

“Reality is just a social construct.”
Thats funny. “Social construct” is a construct.

Paul K
Paul K
9 days ago
Reply to  Alan Gore

I’m currently working on a novel written from the point of view of someone who believes that wearing a thin bit of cloth over your mouth can prevent viral transmission, and that anyone who fails to wear one is a disciple of Goebbels. The publishing offers are already flooding in.