Unlike past summer films featuring Spiderman, Iron Man, or X-Man, this summer’s leading movie man is the XY-Man, the sperm donor. In The Kids Are Alright Mark Ruffalo plays the sperm donor tracked down by the children of two lesbians played by Annette Bening and Julianne Moore. The lesbians finally reject the sperm donor from the tight egg of their family. In The Switch originally called The Baster, Jason Bateman plays an accidental sperm donor who meets himself seven years later in the son of a single mom, played by Jennifer Aniston.
According to my purely vanilla extracted film survey, sperm have of course already been featured in film.
In the 1972 Woody Allen film Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Too Afraid to Ask, the answer to the question, “What happens during ejaculation?” features an ensemble cast of sperm. Allen plays a nervous, nerdy sperm fearful of ending up on the ceiling. The hilariously mechanistic explanation of ejaculation should be extra credit viewing in abstinence-only sex education programs.
In the 1983 Monty Python film The Meaning of Life, sperm merit a catchy musical treatment. The father of sixty-three children sings “Every Sperm is Sacred” as his kids are being marched off to an orphanage. He belts out a rousing West End rendition: “Every sperm is sacred. Every sperm is great. And when a sperm is wasted, God gets quite irate.” I recovered from the song just in time for the one-tiny-dinner-mint scene.
And of course men have always been essentialist sperm-donors, but as we’ve seen this summer, the purpose and centrality of that function has shifted with the increased agency of women. Call it choice. It is a profound shift. Why now? Certainly technological advances in artificial insemination, improved in vitro imaging and other sciency things are important. But feminism, Title IX, changing employment patterns, increase in single mothers, and gay activism with its redefinition of marriage and family are all cultural forces in this shift. When the sperm donor is not the central focus of movies about women the shift will truly be a seismic.
We’ll save for another time the discussion of Salt. The leading role of murderous, macho man was written for Tom Cruise. The role was eventually played by the incredibly fertile Angelina Jolie. In my experience it beats male porn.