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Bodies…The Exhibition January 22, 2008

Posted by docgrubb in culture.

     After reading the Enquirer’s piece on the planned Museum Center exhibition, “Bodies…” (July 30), so many points come to mind that I don’t know where to begin. Allow me to outline:

1)  The right to a proper burial, and the fear of not having one (in other words, to remain above ground, either as carrion for scavengers, or as a spectacle, like decapitated heads fastened to bridges in 17th century England) has remained a theme in the world’s literature from the time of the Bible to Beowulf to the present.  These Chinese cadavers, who the show’s directors admit did not give consent prior to death, are denied this undeniably basic human dignity and right

.2)  They are not only denied this dignity, but they are paraded (and not just they, but their exposed inward parts) in front of gawking spectators, who in paying for the ‘privilege’, are flooding the revenues of these museums and the shows’ owners and directors.  This disrespect of bodies in exchange for mammon is akin to prostitution. 

3)  Dr. O’dell Owens, coroner, was quoted as saying, “This show is tasteful and respectful.”  I must disagree with him.  No matter how ‘tasteful’ the exhibit is, it cannot be respectful.  For example, medical research done without consent (the first rule of ethical protocol) can still be well-written or even yield valuable results.  But it can never be ethical.

4)  These exhibits are neither art nor education.  They must not pretend to be art, for even our increasingly coarsened culture would not permit humans to be used in such a way.  And as far as being educational, I offer the following thoughts.  Society has, by a precedent of reticent acquiescence out of necessity, allowed physicians, exercising professional humility, to dissect cadavers.  This privilege has been granted only because those involved realized the limitations of merely two-dimensional depictions of anatomy in preparing surgeons and doctors for practice.  My point is that these crowds of museum visitors, amazed and awed though they may be, have, for the most part, not yet exhausted the study of the two-dimensional.  And even if they had, society does not have any onus to deliver the foregoing privileges to such a broad, unobligated group at the expense of another (the deceased.)

5) I admit that the ‘products’ of plastination have educational potential.  But education implies study, or at least some concentration and memorization.  At such an exhibition, the passing teenager yelling “neat!”, or the adult smoker viewing a diseased lung and gaining a momentary (gut-induced) introspection, etc, are all primarily sensational, not educational.

6)  These misuses of human bodies will breach an ethical boundary which will not be able to be repaired, especially in the consciences of observing children.  Can you imagine the confusion in children’s minds, after previously asking Daddy countless times, and being reassured that a particular ugliness or misfortune in a movie was “just pretend”, or that the horror in their nightmares just minutes before was “not real”, when this time they ask Daddy in the museum if these are real people, and he says…”YES!“?   The child, here our moral superior, might then ask himself “who did this to them?”, “did it hurt?”, “is the bad guy being punished?”, or “and why is Daddy not upset?”   Some children, to whom death itself is an abstraction, may not logically conclude that all this skinning and mutilation was not actually endured, having been post-mortem.  So inside the museum, the child will just be confused.  But what he will retain for good, burned on the canvas of his mind, are images of flayed human beings and dismembered limbs.   As a society we are systematically desensitizing our children.  But how far do we want to go?

7)  The developer of plastination, Gunther von Hagens, is the son of a past official of the Nazi SS.  From all appearances, he possesses, like Dr. Kevorkian, a macabre fascination with death.  Besides his plastination, he has performed, for a paying audience, a ‘public’ autopsy, in violation of British law.  Our own Museum Center, for sell-out crowds (and ticket sales), under the rubric of ‘education’, will be party to such men’s culture of death.


1. Morris Tsai - January 29, 2008

This is a good piece. I have included a link to it from my site.

We’re trying to get the word out and rally this Saturday Feb. 2 from 10am-12noon.

For more info, please visit my site!

Protest info
Opinion piece

2. SBraden - January 30, 2008

Very well said….I agree 100%. Our culture is one of death and not life. There are no longer boundaries of human respect/dignity. My children will definitely not be exposed to this, nor will I. Thank you for putting the word out so eloquently.

3. celeste - January 23, 2010


time to read “I Sing the Body Electric” by Walt Whitman as antidote.

The body and blood are sacred. I saw some of this at a museum I went to(didn’t know it would be there). I looked a bit, but was seriously creeped out to begin with(dont’ laugh but I seem to have a good ghost radar), and then very saddened. Done in the same spirit, to my mind, as the Apache who cuts off a certain something and stuffs it in the mouth of his defeated enemy.

wyld thang

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