Friday, February 24, 2006

Body Worlds

As part of a seemingly endless birthday celebration, the Handsome Honey took me to Body Worlds at the Franklin Institute. It was amazing! And, it was sad, too. All those people who lost their lives to make it possible. It was a lot of death to be surrounded by. (Oh, I took this photo of the stairs leading up to the entrance of the Franklin Institute. )

Now, I am officially a biology major, but I think I'm actually pursuing an English Lit degree at this point. There was a whole plan to take a few courses and then transfer into a program at Penn to get a Masters degree in physical therapy. Then, Sparky lost his mind and instead of working part time and going to school full time, I was one person who had a car and house to pay for on her own and no extra money to even go to school part time. Well, not if I didn't want them to turn of the electricity. I was doing okay, but I was cutting it pretty close for a little while there. There was no way I'd be able to afford to do any of the original plan. So, for the seven millionth time (that is only a slight exaggeration), I had to rethink my life plan.

Anyway, I'm really good at the life sciences and I find them fascinating. I'd like to get over to BodyWorlds before it's gone. I think it's only in Philly until April, but there is a Body Worlds 2 that's starting to make the rounds, and I'll definitely want to catch that one.

Although I found it to be an amazing view of the human body and how it works. It's a view which I believe is probably not possible any other way. This Gunther von Hagens is a genius, but he's more than a little creepy too. If he did this as a way to really help people understand the mysteries of the human body, so we can really see it, then that's amazing. But, there's also the possibility that this is just a big circus and he's the guy with the hat in the center ring, raking in the bucks while people ooh and ah at the freaks. That, I have a real problem with.

In my first semester of Anatomy and Physiology, the professor told us that with the rampant overpopulation in India, it was difficult to dispose of the dead. There wasn't much space and people were too poor to afford proper burials. So, what they would do was they would sell the bodies and they would be, oh, I don't really want to think about the process. Let's just say they would wind up skeletons that would be used in schools, hospitals, etc. around the world. Often they would have a sticker or sign indicating that the skeleton had been "Made in India."

At Body Worlds the exhibits were all real people, who through a process called plastination were preserved. The bodies are posed so that you can see the workings of muscle groups or the positioning of body parts. There is a basketball player balanced on the ball of one foot, with the rest of him stretched out, almost in flight. The Handsome Honey was amazed that this exhibit was balanced and not falling over. Looking down at the base, I noticed a tag, like you'd see on the base of a sculpture that this piece was made by Gunther von Hagen. Ewww. That was kind of creepy.

von Hagen adequately showed that the people who were used in the exhibit were fully aware of what they were getting themselves into. There were blown up reproductions of the release forms to be examined. I had the audio tour as well and at a couple of points in the tour the narrator explains how important it was to the Body Worlds people to be respectful of the people and to preserve their dignity. I agree and if that was what they really had in mind, then it was important to make sure everyone understood that. However, if that was just a CYA tactic to mislead people, then it was doubly wrong. See, I'd like to say that I loved this and that it was amazing and fascinating and provided me with information that I can't imagine I'd get anywhere else, but I'm still so unsure of the motive. I don't want to line this man's pockets if he's just making a spectacle of these people.

The absolute saddest part of the whole exhibit is by far the baby room. In the back of the room is woman who died when she was eight months pregnant. She and her baby (still in utero) are preserved . I guess they must have known this one would be controversial, because it is explained in detail. The woman knew she was dying and hoped to live long enough for her child to be born. At eight months, had she died in a hospital, the baby would have been saved, but she apparently didn't die in the hospital and so the baby died with her.

From what I've read in the papers about people's reactions to the exhibit, it looks like it had an impact on many of the people who've gone. A lot of people are signing releases to donate their bodies. There were lots of destroyed livers and blackened lungs in the exhibit and I've read that some people left with an idea to change their ways. Of course, it also sparked religious debates about God and life and evolution and abortion, with people still taking what they saw and adding it to their arsenal of beliefs.

The exhibit is due to leave Philly toward the end of April, then it opens up in Minnesota in the beginning of May. After Body Worlds leaves, then I just have to wait very patiently until King Tut gets here next February.


sassymonkey said...

Body Worlds 2 is wrapping up it's last weekend here in Toronto. I saw it bad in October. It was really good. At first I wasn't sure if I'd find someone to go with me but I did eventually find two people to go with me - one wants to go to medical school and one works in another museum. I had the anthropology background (including an interest in forensic anthro). We were all fascinated by it.

I came very close to slapping people's hands when they touched the exhibits. And I'm not talking about kids here. I'm talking adults. I found it disrespectful.

JoanneMarie Faust said...

Seriously, I kept feeling like I should remind these people, pointing, giggling, touching that these were real people. Hey maybe they'll get haunted!

sassymonkey said...

I can only hope that a couple of people get haunted. Particularly the ones that touched the exhibits right in front of parents who had just told their children not to.