PCR past banners Nolan's Pop Culture Review--now in our sixth calendar year!
PCR #283 (Vol. 6, No. 34) This edition is for the week of August 22--28, 2005.

Deadguy's Dementia

"The Aristocrats"
 by Mike Smith
"Bodies, The Exhibition" at MOSI
 by Mike "Deadguy" Scott
Nolan's 50th....Florida Skunk Ape....Supergirl
 by John Lewis
The Cable Guys....Sell Out....Passing On....Paging Major Healy....Photographic Memories....Jaws: The Story, Part 31
 by Mike Smith
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Bodies: The Exhibition, at MOSI

The Museum of Science and Industry, "Bodies... The Exhibition", was due to open to the public on August 20th, but actually opened one or two days earlier than that. Plasticized corpses await the morbidly curious, in many different artistic poses.

MOSI's 4-day opening of the exhibit had more than 12,000 tickets sold. The Saturday that Nolan and I went, it seemed as though all 12,000 were there with us, but the number turned-out to be 5,980. We waited half an hour to buy tickets, and then an additional 90 minute line led us into the exhibit area. As we neared the exhibit, Nolan was announcing "$1,000 for my place in line, Anyone? Anyone?" Personally, I think that if he'd been louder, he'd have made some money that way.

It should be noted that the Plastination process is the act of replacing all body moisture/fluids with silicone, after thoroughly cleaning the corpse. The silicone stops the dead organic material from being exposed to air, and effectively encases it, theoretically ensuring that the tissue will never decay. The "Body Works" exhibit (different tour) had problems with the plastination process itself on some of the corpses, causing them to drip milky white silicone while on display. This effectively meant that the encased dead flesh was no longer quite as encased as it was supposed to be. The same tour also managed to get itself in trouble when it was determined that there were bullet holes in the heads of two of the bodies.

There is a distinct difference between the various touring plastination exhibits. The primary difference seems to be in how the bodies are displayed, and the focus of the presentation. "Bodies... The Exhibition" seems more focused on what you may have missed in basic biology (or heath class), while showcasing their "choice cuts". I felt like there were some basic things that were overlooked. For example, why have a full body display of veins and arteries, and a small blurb that states that blood travels through your body, carrying oxygen? Wouldn't it be more useful to mention that the carteroid artery was missing from this specimen, or that this man's heart was enlarged? Perhaps even WHY the heart was enlarged, and explain that the vein "trees" are displayed in water because they'd be unable to stand-up under their own weight.

It was also strange in that the bodies were of notably smaller stature than the people looking at them. Fatty tissue had been removed, but since these were Chinese bodies, they were simply smaller. Not all of them were that small though. It was frustrating to me to see a brain, or a skull, and try to relate it to what the actual size of a brain would be in the people around me, or in myself. Ribcages were pretty small too, and although as a skeleton model saleman, I was prepared for that, some of these ribcages were easily less than half the size of my own.

The posings of the bodies were interesting. There were bodies posed as a hitchhiker, a discus thrower, soccer player, book reader, conductor, and a basketball player. Another was posed as though playing ring-around-the-rosey with his own skeleton, though it looked more like a PSA (Public Service Announcement) on the dangers of climbing onto a centrifuge machine. I overhead a museum staff member explaining that they were posed in those ways to highlight specific areas of their bodies that were cut open and displayed. The example he used was the soccer playing corpse, posed leaning backwards as though it were performing a move called a bicycle kick. He said that this pose was used because it allowed you to see the top of the head and the foot. However, to me, that seems contrived, especially since the foot that was being "focused on" had a large soccer ball bolted to it's foot, and the rest of the body looked "practiced upon" with several surgical cuts exposing muscle layers.

The hitchhiker corpse seemed pretty amusing to me. It occupied the first room of the exhibit, and was very reminiscent of one of the ghosts at the Disney Haunted Mansion Ride. It's standing, leaning back, smiling with it's rictous grin, with thumb held-up near its face, entire body posed like it's in a cigarette commercial, just playfully thumbing a ride. Apparently hoping for a ride through the rest of the exhibit. Of course, if its previous owner, the Chinese prisoner who occupied this body prior to his execution, had any control over it, it might have been placed at the end of the exhibit, hoping for a ride out of there, away from the folks who kept poking at him, despite the "do not touch" sign at his feet.

OK, for the record, the bodies were plastinated in a Chinese University, and although everyone says that there were no executed criminals in the .. err.. "batch" (?) the official word from the university is that IF there are any criminal bodies present, the university is unaware of them. This is a standard disclaimer, and means nothing. In China, the bodies' origins are kept secret. In other words, the university had no idea who any of these people were, or what paths they took to get there. The idea being that the corpse BECOMES anonymous as it enters the system, by simply having no history. It's similar to the methods used in the US, but in the US there is still an identification proceedure that would make tracing the boidies lineages possible. (the idea being that if something odd is found about a body, further investigation can be made.)

Apparently, none of these bodies gave their consent though...very odd, especially due to the excellent condition of the bodies. It suggests that doctors acted fast to preserve the bodies of strangers, for whatever money was in it for them. This includes many children in the exhibit.

One thing that was also a bit odd was that the poses were a bit misleading, since the muscles don't contract anymore. It seems like more languid poses were called for, for the sake of accuracy. Have the corpses stretching out, or perhaps artificially contract the muscles, or maybe doing a bunch of Da Vinci poses. I think maybe more acceptable poses for me, would have been stretching, or exercising, to emphasize the health aspects of respecting your body, or to merely endow the bodies with a stronger sense of dignity. Otherwise, you end-up with the body of what could be a convicted killer, or a lost homeless man apparently looking to hitch a ride with you with his rictous grin and leering dead eyes.

So...is this death imitating art, art imitating life, or death imitating life? It's all wrapped up nicely in an educational, instructional forum where people can learn more about their own bodies. That's great and stuff, but does a "common person" really need that depth of information on the subject? Or rather, does seeing a dead criminal's penis as he pretends to bicycle-kick a soccer ball teach something beyond the low-level biology lesson on the chart next to topic at hand to the young girls that were present (and giggling/pointing hysterically).

It's one thing to see where an entire human body was sliced into 1/32 thick layers, basically turning the body into a series of life-sized CAT scans. That seems to serve a function as a very unique learning tool, despite the fact that labelling was at an all-time low on that corpse. However, a convicted criminal who paid for his crimes with the death penalty now has his skinless corpse conducting an imaginary symphony of death, with various layers of muscle removed in several artsy patterns, and his skull's eye sockets cut into additional patterns, with his preserved eyeballs staring out. The corpse hardly seems to be an educational tool, and seems to enter the realm of fantasy art.

A body in a seated position, with its spinal column laid open, provides neurology students with a rare first-person view of how it all goes together. The body is a corpse, and that same corpse has been artfully arranged so as to appear to be contemplating a rather thick text on the inner workings of the brain. He's seated on and at a nicely polished tree stump. the rings and loops of the woodgrain comparing nicely with the fine grain of muscle. Of course, the muscle lookes like stringy meat from the butcher, minus the blood.

Something that seemed a bit odd was that the corpses were all skinned. Some had skin adjacent to cut-away sections, to indicate layers. The bodies (almost universally) retained oval patches of skin with their eyebrows intact on them. Most, except for the more skeletal ones retained noses and nosehair, some retained eyelids and eyelashes on at least half of their faces, and a few had intact lips. The male genitilia was skinless, while the female's were lightly shaved, only the slightest layer of hair remained, with what appeared to be airbrushed touch-ups on some of them.

Next to each corpse was a poster-sized picture of the same corpse, with little arrows indicating some organ, or whatever was being demonstrated by the exhibit. The back of that poster had the back of the corpse printed on it, with similar reference information. One thing I noted was that although the pictures were definitely taken of the corpse next to them, they didn't entirely match them. Apparently, some settling of contents may have occured; skin has been wrinkling, etc, One that was more noticeable, and more dramatic was that on one woman, one of her skinned breasts had changed color.. A notable red color had disturbed the otherwise white area since the photo had been taken. Very sort of, well, blood colored. I'm not sure what that indicates, but very odd that the color would change like that.

I begain noticing the red colorations on other bodies in various areas.. typically between strands of muscle tissue. A bit odd, and it'd be interesting to see if the bodies change over the next 6 months that the exhibit is open.

What really made this exhibit interesting to me was to see how people were responding to it.

Even skinless, the male genitals were apparently recognizable to even the youngest of guests as she was carried past one of the bodies: "Look!" she exclaims excitedly, pointing at a criminal corpse split from groin to skull standing before her, "Look ma! Look at his penis!" which of course elicited a bit of embarrassment for mom, and chuckling from everyone within earshot. Mom was too embarrassed to truly respond, and was trying to play it down a bit, but the young girl, perhaps 2 years old, apparently decided that mom hadn't heard her and that mom was in imminent danger of missing the penis, so she said it again, a bit louder and more insistant this time. Mom realized that the girl was likely to erupt again soon unless she responded, so she went so far as to put her hand over her daughter's mouth amid many chuckles from the dozen or so people watching them.

Another bit of fun was had when I picked up a human brain and began turning it over in my hands. It's a lot smaller than I'd thought. As Nolan is likely to mention, it was perhaps 2 and a half times smaller than the generally accepted Hollywood effects brain. Next to the brain there was a chunk of smoker's lung that someone was hesitatingly poking at, apparently nervous to touch it. Another show highlight was to say," Oops, sorry, didn't mean to hog the brain like that," and pass it to the nervous teenager faster than their brain could process what they were being handed. White as a sheet, I tell you...white as a sheet. I'm impressed though. Athough the brain was quickly returned to the table in front of him, it never hit the floor.

Disappointingly, Nolan and I were viewing the rooms separately for the most part, so I had to hold most of my better gags in check.. Though ocassionally there'd be stuff like Nolan looking at a split corpse and I'd pass behind him seemingly innocent, lightly singing "..Half the man I used to be..."

Patrons ran the gambit from the very young to the very old. Of course, since there seemed to be several billion people on hand, it hardly seems unusual to get such a spread. I have to say that there were a lot of kids though. I was a bit surprised by that. Nakedness aside, these are dead folks on display here. I have to wonder if some of the kids were aware of what death is, or indeed if everyone realized we were looking at real dead folks. This question is stronger when you hear that a friend-of-a-friend was part of the crew responsible for moving the bodies and organ displays into the room, and was unaware that these organs were real. At least, he was unaware until his boss screamed, "Have you NO respect for the dead?!" He'd been caught juggling the organs that were meant for hands-on inspection by museum guests.

Some folks leaned in and peered into the exposed dead tissue, seemingly trying to prove a point by doing so, while explaining some trivial medical thing to whomever they were with. Of course they did it loud enough so that the folks around them could listen in, too, and be impressed by their apparent wealth of knowledge. Folks like this are fun to mess with... seeing their faces all contorted in an extrodinarily serious expression meant to add seriousness to their expert testimony while typically, the people they're with seem mildly embarrassed, and very uninterested in their partner's breakthrough medical discoveries.

Some people seemed content to give a wide berth to the corpses, keeping their arms folded over their chests, and were perhaps concerned that someone might bump them into the spectacle before them. These same people refused to participate in the "pick up the organs" game and some even seemed a bit repulsed by the amount of people standing at that table.

Others made great effort to look into the eyes of the dead. These are interesting in the fact that they tended to stand there with their hand held over their mouths like they're about to cough, or absent-mindedly applying pressure to their upper lip. These were funny in that they seemed to be comparing themselves to the corpse before them. After touching themselves while comparing facial features, they tended to glance at the genitalia, and then the people's faces around them. After the initial alarm had passed, and they hadn't been caught looking "where they shouldn't be looking", they (obviously lost in thought) tended to move closer and look at the rest of the body. Still the hand would hover over the mouth. These were, oddly enough, the ones most likely to be so absorbed in the corpse that they'd tentatively reach out to touch it. They did it without thinking, but their eyes flew wide if the corpse swayed slightly. They almost always wiped their hands on their clothes immediately afterwards.

This last type of people were also most likely to backpeddle when they saw that a sign said a side room contained dead babies in various stages of fetal development. I only looked at that for a bit. The very small ones reminded me of a baby bird that'd falled out of a nest when I was little. Tiny thighbones visible beneath the skin white at the joints. I'm just glad that the exhibitors didn't decide to pose them to show off various body systems. I wouldn't have been pleased to see some dead infant skipping rope with its skin all gone. I'm not sure where they drew the line, but I'm glad it was drawn before that.

As I noted earlier, the folks in the exhibit were of notably small stature. This meant that there were times when you wondered if the head in the glass case before you; sliced along the length of the nose, peeled and seperated into two halves might be an 8-year-old boy. The eyes were open, and if you looked through the nostrils, you could see nose hair framed against the white table. Was this a kid? a small adult? What stage of development were we looking at? Where did all these children bodies come from.. orphans? Why are they so well preserved? The doctors must have acted very quickly to preserve them when they died, unless there's makeup mixed into there somehow. Unclaimed child's corpse sold to a travelling freak show.. err.. I mean educational exhibit?

It's a corpse, it's a him. He was someone's son, friend, neighbor, etc.. Now he's a skinless dead child forever staring at the waistlines of those that crowd his small glass chamber.

Or the adults, caught in a pose that probably had nothing to do with their lives. He died and became a basketball player? The media, and guests, "ooh" and "ahh" at him and his plight. In some of these touring exhibits, images of his lifeless, bloodless, and skinless corpse with genitals for the world to gawk at, grace posters, notepads, mouse pads and postcards in the giftshop. (Go to www.plastination.com for the gift shop of another body tour exhibit)

Is it sick? Demented? Informative? Educational? Is it even legal? That would depend on who you talk to. Personally, I figure that the consent forms should be required for any body put on display within 100 years of their death, unless specifically requested preservation methods were utilized on the body, suggesting that the owner, and/or loved ones, intended that the body be displayed.

I add that last bit because, you know, King Tut never signed a release form either.

"Deadguy's Dementia" is ©2005 by Mike "Deadguy" Scott.  Webpage design by Nolan B. Canova.  The "Deadguy's Dementia" header graphic and background tile are creations of Mike Scott.  All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2005 by Nolan B. Canova.