Every Sperm Is Sacred
"Every Sperm is Sacred" is a musical sketch from the movie 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.
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, his wife played by Terry Jones and their 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 don't use contraception or sterilisation, such as why the father doesn't perform self-castration, Dad 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 is quite visually elaborate, filmed in Halifax, West Yorkshire and choreographed by Arlene Phillips to a storyboard by director Terry 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, to which they ironically add that they have two children, which is the exact number of times they have had sex in their marriage, 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, Terry Jones denied that it was explicitly written to make fun of the genre of musical comedy: "'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."
Sexuality and reproduction
The very phrase "every sperm is sacred" has become almost proverbial in the field of animal and human sexuality and reproduction, and by extension in 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 alluded to it in discussions of women's reproductive rights, and it is used generally "to expose the absurdity of the anti-choice argument when taken to its extreme."
The religious import of the sketch is equally 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.
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 as well as sex for any purpose other than procreation.
According to the interview with Michael 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 features numerous underage children and they (Pythons) were already "pushing the limit." Years later, several of the child actors stated they had no idea what they were singing about.
- Chapman, Graham; John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Bob McCabe (2003). The Pythons: Autobiography by the Pythons. Macmillan. p. 323. ISBN 978-0-312-31144-5.
- "Search Results: 'every sperm is sacred'". British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Retrieved 2009-02-02.
- Gale, Steven H. (1996). Encyclopedia of British Humorists: Geoffrey Chaucer to John Cleese. Taylor & Francis. p. 155. ISBN 978-0-8240-5990-3.
- Singson, A. (2001). "Every Sperm Is Sacred: Fertilization in Caenorhabditis elegans". Developmental Biology (Elsevier) 230 (2): 101–109. doi:10.1006/dbio.2000.0118. ISSN 0012-1606. PMID 11161565.
- Braun, R.E. (1998). "Every Sperm Is Sacred--Or Is It?". Nature Genetics 18 (3): 202–204. doi:10.1038/ng0398-202. ISSN 1061-4036. PMID 9500533.
- R. Alta Charo, "Every Cell Is Sacred: Logical Consequences of the Argument from Potential in the Age of Cloning," in Lauritzen, Paul (2001). Cloning and the Future of Human Embryo Research. Oxford University Press US. pp. 82–92. ISBN 978-0-19-512858-1. P. 82.
- Cynthia Peters, "Every Sperm Is Sacred," in Fried, Marlene Gerber (1990). From Abortion to Reproductive Freedom: Transforming a Movement. South End Press. p. 187. ISBN 978-0-89608-387-5.
- Millbank, Jenni (1997). "Every Sperm Is Sacred? Denying Women Access to Fertility Services on the Basis of Sexuality or Marital Status". Alternative Law Journal 22: 129–29.
- Emily Martin, "Body Narratives, Body Boundaries," in Grossberg, Lawrence; Cary Nelson, Paula A. Treichler (1992). Cultural Studies. Routledge. pp. 409–23. ISBN 978-0-415-90345-5. P. 422.
- Hardcastle, Gary L.; George A. Reisch (2006). Monty Python and Philosophy: Nudge Nudge, Think Think!. Open Court Publishing. p. 129. ISBN 978-0-8126-9593-9.
- Jenkins, Philip (2003). The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice. Oxford University Press US. p. 161. ISBN 978-0-19-515480-1.
- Dawkins, Richard (2006). The God Delusion. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 300. ISBN 978-0-618-68000-9.
- Herring, Richard (2004). Talking Cock: A Celebration of Man and His Manhood. Thunder's Mouth Press. p. 109. ISBN 978-1-56025-608-3.
- Moore, Michele; Caroline De Costa (2003). Dick: A User's Guide. Marlowe & Company. p. 43. ISBN 978-1-56924-429-6.
- Monty Python (2 September 2003). "Monty Python's the Meaning of Life (Two-Disc Collector's Edition) (1983)". Amazon.com (DVD) (Universal Studios). ASIN B0000A0MFJ.