1. says

    I saw the exhibit when it was in Chicago. Very interesting, well worth a visit. Works better as art than as science or education, but successful on all those levels.

  2. says

    Very definitely worth seeing; I saw it in Philadelphia last year.

    As art, it builds from beginning to end; I have a tentative idea about what you’ll think about the exhibit’s culmination, and I’m interested in hearing whether that idea was right or not.

  3. says

    Body Worlds is currently showing here in Denver, as well, although apparently for a shorter duration than in MN. I’m hoping to review it, too–that is, if I can find anyone brave enough to join me. I’m looking forward to your report… perhaps I can use it to persuade others.

  4. False Prophet says

    I saw it in Toronto at the Ontario Science Centre in December (an anniversary gift to my parents). It was pretty interesting, though perhaps overlong. The exhibits at the end were worth it, however.

    Strangely, the slices of human brain at the beginning reminded me of lunch meat. It was kind of disturbing how hungry I felt.

  5. Troy Britain says

    F.P.: Strangely, the slices of human brain at the beginning reminded me of lunch meat. It was kind of disturbing how hungry I felt.

    Huh, you weren’t bitten recently by anyone who was sort of pale and walking in a shambling manner were you?

  6. says

    I’m way too squeamish for that sort of thing. Sounds educational and interesting, but there’s no way I could endure it. (I even avoided frog-slicing in high school.) You’d think a farm kid would be a harder sort, but I have a highly developed heebie-jeebies gland.

  7. SEF says

    Will the Myers clan also be signing on as volunteers for a future batch of exhibits (if and when circumstances of body donation arise)?

  8. Mnemosyne says

    We saw BodyWorlds when it was here in Los Angeles, and I expected to be much more grossed out than I actually was. They walk you through it very slowly, starting with familiar things like skeletons, and it takes quite a while to get to the more spectacular specimens, by which time you’ve been sufficiently desensitized that you can look at the displays with wonder instead of disgust.

  9. says

    Ooo, interesting…looking forward to your report. I’m insanely curious about this exhibit, which if it ever comes to New Mexico I would be astounded.

    Things like this both fascinate and horrify me, but I think I’m fascinated by my horror, if that makes sense.

  10. says

    This letter to New Scientist pretty much describes my feelings:


    Disrespecting the dead
    27 May 2006
    Kathleen Anderson Berkeley, California, US

    In today’s tradition of seeking the ultimate sideshow, we now hustle the family on down to the local science museum and plunk down our Visa card for admission to view the flayed and dissected remains of fellow humans, frozen into “artful” poses, caught in the act of kicking a soccer ball, or split down the middle as with a meat cleaver (6 May, p 51).

    Respect for the dead has been a defining characteristic of human culture from its inception, but no longer. Such respect has been demonstrated throughout recorded history by the ritual love and honour shown to those who had died, as displayed in funeral traditions and elaborate grave sites. The exception has been the treatment accorded to one’s enemies: corpse mutilation was commonly a way to exhibit vengeance and has in recent years come to be regarded as so abhorrent as to have been outlawed as a war crime by the Geneva conventions.

    It is also a crime to “pillage” a body. How much more pillaged could a body be than to be hacked up and displayed in public for financial gain?

    From issue 2553 of New Scientist magazine, 27 May 2006, page 24


    I would add that I have experience working with cadavers, in college-level Human Anatomy classes, and that I had no problem with that. But we treated the cadavers with respect and gratitude and dignity, and understood their incalculable value in teaching Human Anatomy. We never posed them like so many Gumby figures, and we respected their privacy and the profound gift they represented to our students.

    Personally, I find these “Body” carnivals horrific beyond belief, starting with the fact that the bodies’ previous owners (and their families) did not consent to this use, this objectification beyond all measure, but also including the Chinese cultural revulsion at such treatment of their compatriots. (No, the demonstrations against these exhibitions didn’t get much press coverage in SF, but that’s not an indication that the Chinese-American community was in any way placated or accepting of the disrespect and desecration.)

    In keeping with the remark of another poster, SEF, above, I think that part of the price of admission to such a thing should (at minimum) manditorily include a contract donating one’s own body for the same kind of treatment. But more than that, it should be against the law to use any bodies for such things, unless their owners specifically consented to such treatment.

  11. says

    Personally, I find these “Body” carnivals horrific beyond belief, starting with the fact that the bodies’ previous owners (and their families) did not consent to this use

    Actually, that’s not true. “Body Worlds” showed the consent forms the donors were asked to sign, and the forms made it clear what the exhibit was about. Some of the donors’ comments on the signed forms made it very clear how excited they were to be a part of the exhibit, knowing full well what it was they were getting involved in. You may find them a bit on the exhibitionistic side, but still fully informed.

  12. says

    Not all of von Hagen’s corpses have signed consent forms. See for details. And of course, informed consent is not something a child is deemed capable of providing, let alone a fetus.

    However, my comment about upset in the Chinese-American community is more applicable to the competing “Bodies: the Exhibition” show, mounted by von Hagen’s former partner.

    I am not really surprised that some people would want to be in such an exhibit. Very little surprises me anymore.

  13. Mnemosyne says

    Vorticella, the other problem is that you seem to have a fairly culturally-bound idea of what entails “respect for the dead.” In other cultures, respecting the dead involves leaving their bodies exposed for vultures to devour and then collecting the bones for display.

    Not everyone hides their dead away like we do in modern American culture. One of the earliest uses of photography was to take pictures of the departed in their coffins — something that today we find disgusting and horrifying.

  14. says

    (re: respect) I can even imagine a society where it would be a great honour to display corpses, “to exhibit the best of us” or something. Dunno if this is actually practiced anywhere, but it seems to be close to some of the goals of mummification in say ancient Eygpt.

  15. says

    It is a giant leap to compare these corpse displays with the photos taken of the dead in their coffins made up to look as life-like and natural as possible, for the purpose of remembrance, and this is in keeping with the continuing custom among many to have open-coffin funerals. This custom serves the dual purpose of giving one last glimpse of a person’s corporeal being, and of emphasizing the finality of their death to their survivors, though it wouldn’t be my own preference. Actually, I’d prefer the vulture method, so perhaps I’m not as “culturally-bound” as you seem to think.

    What I object to is the sideshow quality of these shows, and the objectification of (in at least some cases) people’s bodies without their consent. I object to the use of prisoners most especially (albeit not for this particular show, but for its twin). A Chinese-American friend expressed his (culturally-bound?) horror that any persons of Chinese descent would be treated in this way, in violation of long-held cultural traditions, and asked me what I thought the reaction would be if the exhibit had instead used the bodies of Africans. Yes, I know, the von Hagens show uses all Caucasians, probably in deference to just such objections, but the other show — “Bodies: The Exhibit” — uses Chinese prisoners. The typical viewer will not distinguish one show from the other, and such treatment of prisoners violates what was until recently a very strong cultural norm, codified in the Geneva conventions.

    As far as people volunteering their bodies for such uses–there are probably people who would volunteer to be flayed to death as an “art” statement too, but that doesn’t mean it’s acceptable for display, or art.

    I don’t think that discounting the cultural traditions of billions of people presently living necessarily makes one open-minded, but rather suggests a callous disregard for the sensitivities of others. If this makes me “culturally-bound,” so be it.