Orphan Black: The Evil Fertility Clinic Trope Needs to Die – Houston Press

Wednesday, June 28, 2017 at 5 a.m.

Helena with the Proletheans

Screencap from "Things Which Have Never Yet Been Done"

Were into the fifth and final season of Orphan Black, and frankly thats a good thing. You can tell when a show has started to outlast its plot, and Orphan Black got there around the middle of last season. Im sticking with it through the end, but the Sestra Saga is just about played out as far as cohesive storytelling goes.

However, I want to bring up a beef I have with this show and in other media. Its the Evil Fertility Clinic trope. Its gross, its mean and it needs to go the heck away.

I understand why shows like Orphan Black like to use the concept of evil science in reproduction. Unnatural reproduction is as old as horror writing itself. Frankenstein is essentially a story about malformed birth. Alien is a movie about the fear of impregnation. Thats not even getting into evil baby movies like Grace or the Its Alive trilogy. The ending of Splice could definitely count here as well. Pregnancy and birth are scary. I get that.

That said, constantly portraying fertility treatments as fronts for sinister science is both cheap and harmful. Ill give an example of how. In the late 1970s the number of organ donors in the United States dropped by 60 percent. Why? Well, right about that time, a very popular novel, Coma by Robin Cook, came out and was subsequently made into a hit movie. The plot involved hospitals killing patients and harvesting their organs for sale, and it all might just be a coincidence, but its pretty clear the meme of organ donors becoming unwilling victims in a medical conspiracy got planted in the public mind.

I worry that something similar will happen with infertility treatments. Take it from someone who has been there, fertility treatments are neither magic nor unnatural. They are painful, uncertain and damned expensive if you dont have particularly good health insurance, but what they are not is mad science running amok. Yes, if you go through IVF, you might end up with more fertilized embryos than you want implanted, and you have to decide what to do with them. You can donate them to other couples, or offer them for research, or just throw them away.

Its tempting, if youre prone to morbid conspiracy nonsense, to imagine that there are unscrupulous doctors gleefully cackling over these science babies, growing them for macabre purposes once they have been safely acquired. When you see villains like Orphan Blacks Neolution or the Proletheans, it doesnt take much to make you wonder just what might be going on behind the scenes in fertility medicine. Im often told by readers that people can tell fact from fiction, but, again, a 60 percent drop in organ donors right after a movie came out. It is impossible to deny that we are influenced by the media that we consume.

Fertility is already hard enough to deal with in this country. Its seen as elective and a luxury, and you get an awful lot of judgment from people who know about it only from television and movies. I could really do without virtually every portrayal I see of it as being some front for a body horror plot. Theres a reason we dont make movies like Coma anymore, and evil donated limb/organ movies have been getting rarer for a while now. Its time the Evil Fertility Clinic trope joined them in retirement. After all, the delusion that reproductive medicine is only a ghouls ploy can have devastating consequences.

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Orphan Black: The Evil Fertility Clinic Trope Needs to Die - Houston Press

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