I visited an exhibit called Our Body: the Universe Within with my “little brother” last week. It’s an installation at the H.J. Lutcher Stark Center (until September 22) that calls back the famed BodyWorlds exhibition. What is it, you ask? It’s collection of 200 cadavers, skinned and gutted and strewn about in dynamic vogue for macabre entertainment or a very real examination of the human body. The bodies are preserved by a “plastination” process for BodyWorlds and a “polymer impregnation” process for Our Body: the Universe Within. Both methods essentially replace organic material with a plastic substance that hardens and preserves tissue as it was when it was still metabolizing.
We were there for the education.
In fact, I had seen the BodyWorlds exhibit a few years ago in Houston and certainly wouldn’t have laid down $32 for an encore had I not thought it to be such an educational experience for an eleven year old. And he enjoyed it, to my delighted surprise. For two hours, we patiently studied each display, and though he asked no questions, he listened attentively to my every elaboration. I love saturating young sponges with knowledge and I equally love hearing my own handsome voice, so it was a win/win situation.
See, I noticed both the BodyWorlds and Our Body: the Universe Within specimens were entirely of Chinese origin. Ah, I take that back. The BodyWorlds website explains that they take their bodies from consenting donors who are fully informed of the “plastination” process. Their website never actually says they’re from China, and though the German company is weaseling out of my half-assed investigation for not providing full disclosure, I know reds when I see ‘em. As a parallel confirmation, the Our Body exhibition actually admits pooling their specimens from “accredited Chinese universities, medical schools, medical institutions, research centers and laboratories” for the Anatomical Sciences & Technologies Foundation in Hong Kong. But it’s okay because “In China, all donors (or their immediate family members) are clearly told that the donated bodies will be used for medical research and educational purpose.” Honestly, who gives a shit if donors are “clearly told” that they’d be used for educational purposes. Did they clearly know they’d be propped up and paraded around museums in the United States? That’s the stuff poltergeists are made of for Christ's sake.
My little friend and I were respectful and mature, and I hope he learned something that he will remember for a long, long time but I can’t get past the indignity of people donating their bodies to further science only to become a grotesque curiosity for the price of general admission. Perhaps my kicking tantrum is for nothing, but if so, Our Body: the Universe Within should add some plastified Americans to their carnival and see what kind of crowd that draws. If nothing else, they ought to at least consider rewording their public information if they don’t want people who still have gooey brains to call bullshit.
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