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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Jennifer Aniston, Bill O'Reilly and the Hollywood Obsession with Artificial Insemination: Seriously?

When Jennifer Aniston and Bill O’Reilly are the voices of reason in a public debate there is cause for concern. While I don’t follow either of this unlikely pair, my “Sperm Donation” Google Alerts picked up a tiff between the two RE: Artificial Insemination and single motherhood. Preparing for the physical nausea I associated with O’Reilly commentary, I endeavored to investigate the alert. Turns out Jennifer Aniston’s movie, “The Switch” (formerly titled “The Baster” - yes, I know, we’ll discuss that ridiculousness later) is at the root of all the internet fodder. In an odd twist, this somewhat dated beef has been brought back to life in a variety of articles on the recent onslaught of movies about artificial insemination this year. Oy, you gotta love the internet.
The Switch
Apparently, O’Reilly feels the movie, in which Aniston’s single 40-something character opts for artificial insemination, idealizes single motherhood. Aniston then responded to O’Reilly in the press with a variety of comments regarding the benefits of artificial insemination, the lack of need for a man to be a mother, and the liberation of motherhood. All the things one might need to tell themselves when their ex-husband left them to have like 15 children with a woman previously known for dressing like a vampire and making out with her brother on TV. But I digress….she works for UNICEF now.
The debate and the movie are merely symptomatic of what has become a greater Hollywood and media obsession with artificial insemination. From to The Back-Up Plan with J. Lo, to the Academy Award-nominated The Kids Are Alright, to two independent films at the most recent Tribeca Film Festival; Hollywood is fully-fascinated. Unfortunately the obsession is focused almost exclusively on one of the most troubling and ethically-challenging types of artificial insemination: the anonymous kind.
Take for example the name change from the title of “The Baster” to the “The Switch” - and I must pause here for a moment to thank who ever made that decision.  Though, I’m already scarred from the horrible image of Aniston defiling a cooking utensil once warmly associated with Thanksgiving. But anyway, the name change points to a disinterest in the rather sterile and icky parts of artificial insemination. Instead, the interest and curiosity surround the anonymous donation, the unknown sperm, the “faceless” father, the football and fart-free “Invisible Man.”  This isn’t surprising because the majority of movies on artificial insemination were created or written from the perspective of donors and parents.  A group for which, the “faceless father” involved in artificial insemination is more of a practical solution than the cause of deep seeded identity crisis; as it is for so many of the children it creates.
Yet, why now? Why all these films all at once? Some contend that it’s the natural fallout from the “infertility epidemic” reaching a crescendo over the last 10 years. Others say it’s about the coercive effects of technology; anonymous sperm donation somehow entangled with growing social detachment via tools like Facebook and Foursquare. I’d argue is far less complex. It's all over because It’s not a secret anymore.

Artificial Insemination (depending on how you define it) has been around for quite a while, with animal based experiments occurring in the 1800s. Histories vary, but most agree that human artificial insemination took hold post-WWII when people had enough quality of life to actually want to resolve infertility issues. In this environment the “big business” that is the infertility treatment industry could grow.  When sperm freezing became widely available in the 80s and 90s the era of the “sperm bank” took off and so did the number of children conceived via artificial insemination.  For heterosexual couples the rule of thumb was to advise to keep things a secret....and for the most part, things went as planned.
Then, 20 and 30 years later what could be called the anonymous donation “Baby Boom Generation” started to become adults. They have a lot to say and as a member of the community, I can say when it comes to anonymous donation isn’t wholly positive. Most feel cheated or “missing” a piece of themselves. Perhaps even more detrimental, most are heavily burdened by shame and secrecy surrounding their conception.
In a phenomenon I’ve yet to see anywhere else, this ground swell of questions and loss from one group has resulted in another group responding with answers in the media- the parents and donors. It’s as if Hollywood is telling the story the way everyone would like to hear it, especially donors and parents worried they might have made a poor decision. The witty romantic comedy or the quirky indie film provides a happy ending so we all can know, yes it's ok,  “The Kids Are Alright.”  Yet, the kids aren’t alright, they are usually pretty upset and in many ways they haven’t really been truly heard. 
Technorati Tags: Anonymous, ChildrenFamilyParentingSperm DonorPregnancySocietyWomenSocialInfertilityHollywood

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1 comment:

  1. You are so funny and such a good writer. All very well said and to the point.


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