As the forum has grown, entries have started following a fairly standard format: The first few screenshots typically feature the individual in question deploying a remarkably consistent set (there are 30 or so) of memes. Some vilify Dr. Anthony Fauci or champion the right to be unvaccinated. Others warn people they're experimental rats or offer scripts that will properly punish wait staff for daring to inquire about vaccination status. Some deride masked liberals as "sheep" and the unvaccinated as proud free lions or refer to immigrants as vectors of disease or compare vaccination requirements to the Holocaust. Most of them treat the pandemic as a joke and frame ignoring it as brave or clever or both. The final few screenshots typically announce the disease, its progress, and the eventual death announcement, frequently followed by a GoFundMe for the family. [...]
What this massive record of human suffering really illustrates (in all its startling, repetitive sameness) is how seamlessly anti-vax communities reconcile themselves to the deaths their convictions will perpetuate. The posts about individual liberty and self-sufficiency devolve into abjectly dependent appeals: A call to "prayer warriors" is almost a required feature at this point. When someone dies, the grief is gentle and generic: He was a good guy, he got his angel wings today, it was his time, God called him home. Their families frequently express gratitude to the medical staff who cared for their loved ones. It is resignation, and deeply sad. And yet: Chilled though I've been by how this subreddit can rejoice at a death, I'm somehow no less chilled by how easily the bereaved normalize their losses. A 35-year-old man with three young children and a free vaccine available should not be dead! There is astonishingly little recognition of this. [...]
If these individual stories seem to change nothing, what about a cumulative record? Does anything besides schadenfreude happen when Americans see one after another after another after another of these stories? I'm not sure, but a new category has recently been gathering steam in the subreddit: the IPA (Immunized to Prevent Award). People post photos of their new vaccination cards, saying that reading the r/HermanCainAward finally convinced them they didn't want to "win." They get enthusiastically cheered on by commenters. "I'm not anti-Vax," one such comment reads, "I was just afraid and confused by all the misinformation out there. Genuinely frightened and confused. Taking a quick 5 minute look at this Sub-reddit brought me back down to earth. I'll be getting my first round of the Pfizer Vaccine early next week. Thank you for existing." There are more of these than you might expect; who knows if these stories are true, but if even some of them are, maybe these stories can, in the aggregate, persuade people who wouldn't be especially moved by specific cases.