Over Your Dead Body

Shawn and I went to Body Worlds last night. The body shown here was at one time a real human person who decided to give his/her flesh and bones to Dr. Gunther van Hagens. Dr. Hagens developed and perfected the art of plastination which, according to the Web site "makes it possible to preserve individual tissues and organs that have been removed from the body of the deceased as well as the entire body itself." The process stops the body from decomposing and you can stand inches away from it looking at the red lines of the musculature or gaze at an entire family of bodies shaped only out of bundles of tiny red capillaries.

This might be a friend of yours, who knows. They had glass cases and cases of preserved organs and bones too, both healthy and unhealthy--the message was, Don't smoke (blackened lungs) and don't get too fat (they had a sliced up body of a 540 pound person to illustrate the strain subcutaneous fat puts on the internal organs). The most amazing thing was how close you could get to the body--right next to it--they weren't protected by cases for the most part. I blew on one and the exposed nerve muscles shifted. We also saw quite a few pensises and balls, just sort of hanging down, you know, like they do. My favorite but one of the harder ones to look at was a man standing up and sliced into 5 separate pieces. So, the first thing you see is the slice of the entire front of his naked white body and then the last thing you see is the slice of the back of his naked body and in between are three pieces cut to show internal organs. He has all his skin and hair though (including white pubic hair and a short, white military style hair cut on his head) including portions of the tattoos on both his forearms and shoulders. Very strange to look at this man and then see the faint outline of a blue winking mermaid on his arm. Even more ghoulish was the reclining pregnant woman with the 8 month old fetus curled up in her womb which had been peeled away so you could see the child. The placard outside of the exhibit explained that in life, the pregnant woman had been diagnosed with a terminal disease and knew she might not survive the pregnancy and so agreed to be part of the exhibit. Obviously, she did not make it and neither did the baby and now they are forever destined to be gawked at by 6th grade boys on field trips who will be forever scarred by the sight of her cut out and protruding nipples. Another man was completely skinned and holding the skin of his body (with hair on it) in one of his hands as if it were an overcoat he just shook off. I did like the man on the horse though. horses are so overwhelming huge and beautiful, even when you can seek their skulls.

I'm not saying you shouldn't go or that the exhibit is exploitive but it seemed like I should've FELT something more about and I didn't; other than morbid fascination and a vague unease. And of course, a deep curiosity about what they were like in life.


Karin said…
When Paul and I were in L.A. last March we saw the Body Worlds exhibit. Some dude from the Real World/Road Rules challenge was there, too.

All of the exhibits you mentioned were the ones that stood out for me, too. In particular, the cross-section guy and the pregnant woman. I also liked the month-by-month fetal development. They were in jars near the pregnant woman.

I thought I'd be more moved by the exhibit than I was, too. I think because they've been 'plasticized' anything organic or human about them is now gone. They just seemed like highly realistic models or mannequins.

Did you hear the rumor that many of the initial subjects were donated illegally from China prison camps, or something like that? I don't remember the details.

Did they still have the sign-up sheet at the end of the tour? I was like, "Um, if I'm going to donate my body to anything, it'll be for organ donation."
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