I See Dead People: They’re on Exhibit!

What is that sick instinct that makes drivers slow down at the site of a car accident? Is it just plain curiosity, or do they hope to see mutilated bodies? If you can relate, then a new exhibit in New York may be just the thing for you.

Premier Exhibitions Inc. presents Bodies…the Exhibition, an exhibit that puts authentic human remains on display for all to see. For just 24.95 (18.50 for children) you can see such exhibits as a skinless music conductor, a set of conjoined fetuses, a woman vertically sliced into into four pieces, plus a set of male genitalia.

As you can probably tell, this anatomy textbook come to life is not for the squeamish, but this is not the first time that cadavers have been put on display. A smaller version of this show has occurred in Tampa at MOSI (The Museum of Science and Industry), which resulted in obvious controversy. Many religious leaders condemned the show, and even the state attorney general was equally appalled. However, the show was not shut down and drew large crowds.

Controversy has also arisen about the origin of the cadavers themselves. Especially when the bodies were all obtained from China, a nation infamous for its human-rights abuses. Arnie Geller, the president of Premier Exhibitions, Inc., says that all the specimens were “legally obtained”. The exhibition company paid twenty-five million dollars for specimens from a Chinese University, and that the bodies are those of the poor, unclaimed, and unidentified.

China has been implicated for supplying bodies to a similar exhibit called “World of Bodies”. This show, sponsored by Gunter von Hagens, was the first to display the dead. Dr. Von Hagen’s Chinese partner, Dr. Sul Hongjin, now works with Premier Exhibitions. You can’t help but wonder if the bodies in “Bodies” were obtained in a similar manner.

As I did my research on this exhibition, there were a few questions that I could not find answers for.

1. How are the bodies perserved?

We all know that Lenin is under glass, but some of these bodies have been completely dissected. I am assuming that steps were taken to insure that the smell would be completely eradicated, or else it would completely ruin the exhibit. Unless they provided art-sickness bags.

2. How are the exhibits transported?

I am assuming that these bodies were not put in wooden crates marked “Handle With Care”. They clearly had to be moved with delicate care, somehow. I can’t help but wonder if the audience isn’t seeing the entire exhibit due to certain “accidents”.

3. Do these bodies want to be remembered this way?

Assuming you believe in an afterlife, you can’t help but wonder what they are thinking, seeing their corpse on display. One of the exhibits is a dead man in the same position of Rodin’s “Thinker”. The man has his skin removed, his muscles and brain are exposed. I honestly cannot see any educational purpose for this, nor can I help but wonder if this man was as contemplative in his former life.

Despite its ghastly drawbacks, the show has gained some positive criticism as well. Some have said that the exhibit displays the wonder of the human body, as well the consequences of abusing it. For example, a set of lungs heavily damaged by smoking is on display.

However, I am surprised that the general public could enjoy a display knowing that someone paid the ultimate sacrifice for this art. It would like someone discovering that the red color in a prize painting was actually blood. If nothing else, I’m certain that it would be tested to make certain that it was animal blood. And if it was human, it had better be the artist’s or someone who was a volunteer blood donor.

I wonder if we would allow such a conjectural painting to be displayed if we found out that the artist was, in fact, a madman who brutally butchered people in order to use blood for his or her art. Considering that “Bodies” is allowed to display, the “blood painting” could be the next Mona Lisa.

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