Every Sperm Is Sacred  

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The phrase "every sperm is sacred", taken from the Monty Python song of the same name, has become proverbial in the abortion debate. Pro-choice activists have sung the song outside abortion clinics to ridicule their opponents, legal scholars have alluded to it in discussions of women's reproductive rights, and it is used generally to do what has been described as "[exposing] the absurdity of the anti-choice argument when taken to its extreme" ("Body Narratives, Body Boundaries" (1992) by Emily Martin)

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

"Every Sperm Is Sacred" is a musical sketch from the film Monty Python's The Meaning of Life. The song was released on the album Monty Python Sings and was nominated for a BAFTA Music Award for Best Original Song in a Film in 1983. André Jacquemin and David Howman wrote the music and Michael Palin and Terry Jones wrote the lyrics and performed the sketch, which is hailed as one of the Pythons' great sketches.

Contents

Content and production

The song is a satire of Catholic teachings on reproduction that forbid masturbation and contraception by artificial means. The sketch, called "The Third World", is about a Catholic Yorkshire man played by Michael Palin, with his wife played by director Terry Jones. They have sixty-three children, who are about to be sold for scientific experimentation purposes because their parents can no longer afford to care for such a large family with the local mill being closed. When their children ask why they do not use contraception or sterilisation, or why the father does not perform self-castration, their father explains that this is against God's wishes, and breaks into song, the chorus of which is:

Every sperm is sacred,
Every sperm is great.
If a sperm is wasted,
God gets quite irate.

The production in The Meaning of Life was filmed in Halifax, West Yorkshire, Skipton, North Yorkshire and choreographed by Arlene Phillips to a storyboard by Jones. The hearty and cheerful nature of the musical number is counterpointed as the children are marched off to their fate as the song ends, singing a dour rendition of the chorus as their middle-aged Protestant neighbours (played by Graham Chapman and Eric Idle) comment on the teachings of the Catholic Church. They add that they have two children, which is the exact number of times they have had sex in their marriage. This is a joke on the stereotype that Protestants control their reproduction by barely having any sex at all.

The song is a style pastiche of the song "Consider Yourself", from the musical Oliver! by Lionel Bart. Later, Jones denied that it was explicitly written to make fun of the genre of musical comedy: Template:"'Every Sperm is Sacred' is not a parody of these things, it just is those things, it's a musical song, it's a hymn, it's a Lionel Bart-style musical, but it's not making fun of a Lionel Bart-style musical."

The song would be performed at Monty Python Live (Mostly), with Idle singing Palin's part. It also has the Protestant married couple with Palin playing the Protestant husband.

Influence

Sexuality and reproduction

The very phrase "every sperm is sacred" has become almost proverbial in the field of animal and human sexuality and reproduction. This extends to such areas as cloning, where the song is used to criticize anti-cloning activists who argue that every embryo or fertilized egg is sacred. Pro-choice activists have sung the song outside abortion clinics to ridicule their opponents, legal scholars have alluded to it in discussions of women's reproductive rights, and it is used generally to do what has been described as "[exposing] the absurdity of the anti-choice argument when taken to its extreme" ( "Body Narratives, Body Boundaries," in Cultural Studies, ed. Lawrence Grossberg, Cary Nelson and Paula Treichler, (New York: Routledge, 1992)).

Religion

The religious import of the sketch is significant, and is reflected in the widely dispersed usage of the phrase. In the book Monty Python and Philosophy, the argument is teased out to reach a broader (still humorous) conclusion: "The Pythons ask us to consider the consequences of the belief that God cares about our reproductive practices and sees everything. If so, then he watches our sexual activities. ... Christians must concede that all things considered, this [watching people have sex] is one of God's less onerous activities." Philip Jenkins discusses the sketch as an important sign of a growing willingness in the popular media of the 1970s and 1980s to criticize the Catholic Church, saying that "Catholic attitudes toward sex and contraception are ruthlessly parodied" in the song, proving that "Catholicism was available as a legitimate subject of serious fiction." Richard Dawkins, in his The God Delusion, cites the song for that very reason, the illustration of the "surreal idiocy" of some pro-religion, pro-life arguments.

Masturbation

It is sometimes difficult to separate the comic from the serious application of the phrase, and two recent publications on the penis use it for precisely that purpose, Talking Cock, by Richard Herring, and Dick: A User's Guide. In both cases, the sketch is used to ridicule those who condemn masturbation, and sex for any purpose other than procreation.

Reverse censorship

According to the interview with Palin on the DVD extras, he said "at the end of my sock" in the original scene, with the word "cock" being overdubbed later. This was done because the scene featured numerous underage children and the Pythons were already concerned they were "pushing the limit". Years later, several of the child actors stated they had no idea what they were singing about.

See also




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