Wednesday, May 14, 2008

OOOooh, Gross Anatomy

Last night I did something I never want to do again: I went the "Our Body: The Universe Within" exhibit at the Witte Museum. You've probably heard of or seen stories about this traveling array of "plastinated" human carcasses and carcass parts. If you haven't, click on hyperlink above, but be forewarned, it is very, very disturbing . . . very.

I first heard of this scientific? artistic? revolting? exhibit two years ago while visiting a museum in Houston. At first, I was somewhat intrigued by the prospect of human cadavers in playful poses, but being with two young kids (not to mention the $20 ticket price per live person and incredibly long line of people "dying" to get in there), we decided to check out the butterfly exhibit instead. We were still able to have fun, view bi-lateral symmetry, AND keep our lunches down without having to jump on the "corpse wagon."

Since that time, I've heard of several stories surrounding the process, methods, and morality behind such a macabre masquerade of human remains, but I've mainly tried to ignore it. I was very successful in my staunch determination to avoid getting creeped out until the exhibit came to San Antonio. While at the Witte last Saturday for my son's birthday, I jokingly asked my kids if they wanted to take in the skinless bodies. They were not amused by my repugnant raillery. "That's my boy!, let's go check out the scorpion exhibit." We escaped that day without dropping the cash and our jaws on the display of the deceased, but the victory was ephemeral. My wife informed me that we coming back on Tuesday with her nursing friend Jill and her (Jill's) husband (Jimmy.) "Great," I thought "a night out with a bunch of stiffs (and I'm not talking about Jill and Jimmy.)

When we arrived, the line to get in the place was typically long. Great! More time to anticipate the horrific exhibit awaiting us. We made our way to the front of the line, turned off our cell phones ("all the way off, not just on vibrate") and spit out our gum ("all the way out, not just halfway out") and entered the darkened exhibit hall. My senses immediately perceived the smell of formaldehyde, although the bodies were supposed to be "odorless" and "taste like chicken." The throngs of people were deathly quiet and move in single file very slowly around the glass cases that contained beautifully arranged severed arms, legs, tarsals, phalanges, and other grotesque parts and parts of parts. I was more than content to walk on the interior of the lines looking over the shoulders of the sickly curious spectators.

The full-body figures (or what was left of them) were not even contained in glass cases. Although we were strictly instructed not to touch the dead displays, you certainly could have. I once even manually zoomed in so close to a man that was cut perfectly in half that I could count what were his eyebrows from 1 inch away. I couldn't shake the thoughts from my head as I stared at the dozen or so full-bodied figures: "What did this person do in life to deserve this? What was his profession? Did he REALLY play basketball when he was alive? Dang!!! the testes start way up high?"

The entire experience was only made more disconcerting by the fact that every single corpse appeared to be Asian! Why only Asians? I began to think about the prospective shady circumstances surrounding how these specimens were selected. Thank goodness for the creepy, faintly audible music playing in the background that took me away from my unpleasant thoughts only to provide the fodder for more grossly unpleasant thoughts. I've got to hand it to the person who put that together, as a great haunted house rakes in the dough during the Halloween season, this traveling show brings in the green (and the participants work for FREE!)

I'll never eat a turkey leg again!


Anonymous said...

a. You're quite the parenthetical thinker... I mean writer (but I'm sure you already knew that).

b. I went with my anatomy class to the exhibit and I hated it. Not only was I slightly disgusted, I found the whole thing highly unethical. Putting unclaimed, unidentified bodies on display?? And furthermore dragging them all over the country for millions of curious eyes? People gawking and remarking "ewwwww" or "sick!" at a specimen that at one point was a living, feeling human being that did not consent to such treatment is terrible. The section with the babies and fetuses (or just the babies, depending on what you believe) was by far the worst part, though. It makes me mad just thinking about it...

c. I don't really have a c (I just thought it would feel awkward to only have an a and b)

kwkorpi said...

Nicely done "anonymous!" Defending the right of the departed (there is currently a major investigation into the acquisition of the cadavers) AND forcing yourself to include a part c)!

I agree wholeheartedly with your comments on the fetuses, so much to the point that I did not even want to rethink about them in writing the original blog.

PS. When speaking (or writing) in parenthetical comments, it's almost as if I'm implementing the Shakespearian Literary Device of an "aside," (as I do believe it's called. "A curse on both your houses.")

Anonymous said...

Well after that review I may never eat chicken again!

Anonymous said...

I tried to force myself to think of it as purely educational, but I couldn't help but consider the ethics of a German man who "plastinates" Chinese "specimens" and displays them as art. The lack of muscle tone and poor dental health really makes you think about how these specimens were obtained, and knowing that the Chinese are limited on the number of children each family is allowed made the in-vitro exhibit even that much more disturbing. Truly creepy on so many levels.

kwkorpi said...

Dang! I married a smart one! You had some very insightful observations of the specimens. Noticing there dental care and lack of muscle tone. . . I couldn't get past "eyuuuuuuuuuuuuuw!"

I guess that class you took in Nursing School, "Desensitization 101.000000 . . . " really worked.