#222 In which our hero enjoys the viewing of numerous corpses and parts thereof.
So, while we were in Columbus, We went to the innovatively named Bodies… The Exhibition. As noted in my last post, this is something I wanted to see, but missed when it was in Cleveland. And by “missed,” I mean I said “oh yeah, I should get over to that thing” about once a week but never did until it was too late. So, The Scientist, being super-cool, found out about it and we went.
She told me it was at Easton Market, which confused me. See, Easton is a new suburb of Columbus, very fancy-pants. But Easton Market is a mall, basically. When the BODY WORLDS exhibit was in Cleveland, it was at the Great Lakes Science Center (right? I think?) and I expected the Columbus thing to be at a similar educational facility, like COSI, say. But, not being familiar with Easton Market, I thought maybe they had a science hall or some such.
Not so much.
We got there and it was in a strip of stores. Matter of fact, it was right beside Halloween USA, once of those fly-by-night cheapie costume stores. This should have been my first clue that we were dealing with a strictly for-profit operation.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. The exhibit was really cool. It was a large space that was divided up like you’d expect a museum to be… it wasn’t like going into the GAP. And while it wasn’t cheap, it wasn’t the soaking I expected. But I couldn’t help but think that much of the show was designed with entertainment, not strictly education, in mind.
And penises. Lots and lots of penises. More of that in a moment.
So, you know the story, right? That the show is full of real bodies that have been treated with plastic in some fashion so they don’t decay and look, more of less, like real flesh, bone and muscle look. Here’s an article about the process, if you want more info.
The show starts you off slowly. The first hall is full of skeletons, and cross-sections thereof. Everyone has seen skeletons before, so there wasn’t anything shocking. Except… well, I’m not one to buy into conspiracy theories, generally. But I once read an essay on medical skeletons, real ones, not ones made of plastic. The writer was wondering how these skeletons always had perfect teeth. I mean, think about it… these skeletons generally come from Asian or third world counties; these are people from socio-economic situations in which you wouldn’t expect dental health to be the #1 concern. Yet, every skeleton you see has perfect teeth. How can that be? The writer, of course, was implying that people are being raised and harvested strictly for their bones… a viewpoint I don’t share. But still. Perfect teeth. All of them. Odd.
We opted for the audio tour. They give you this device that looks like a 80’s-era cell phone. Each display has a number on it, you key in that number and you get a little info about what you’re seeing. I found this interesting, but The Scientist found it boring.
Which isn’t surprising. In college she had to take a load of anatomy and physiology classes, so she’s seen this stuff before. Actually, she’s seen it up close, not under glass like I was.
After the skeletons (all of whom have PERFECT TEETH) we entered a hall that had parts of bodies on display, highlighting muscle groups. At this point The Scientist became more interested, and regaled me with some great stories about how she had to isolate some muscle or other in anatomy, or how she and her lab partner cut up the wrong thing on their cadaver, and so on. My wife’s a scientist… how cool is that?
One display in particular that stands out in my memory is that of a leg. The muscles were well defined and labeled. You could see everything very well.
Including the penis.
This is the first of several displays in which I thought, why, exactly, am I looking at a penis right now? I mean, strictly speaking, the penis isn’t part of the leg muscle group, and there didn’t seem to be any reason to include it. As a man I know how harsh it sounds to say just chop it off! but it was just distracting. Didn’t add anything to the display.
But, it makes sense if you remember that this exhibit is made to make money. It educates and enlightens while it does that, of course, but it’s really about making money. And people are entertained by sex most of all, if they admit it or not.
The next room was the first to display full bodies. They’re all theatrically posed; this guy is dribbling a basketball, this guy is conducting an orchestra, etc. Now, the penises are in full display on these guys, too; but I expect that, since it’s the entire body.
What struck me the most with the full body displays were the faces. In particular, even though the skin was removed from the entire body, the nose, lips, eye brows and ears were always left on. I thought it was an interesting commentary on what we think of as a face. I wouldn’t have thought that eyebrows were critical in recognizing a face, but I guess they are. I wondered if anyone who knew the person in real life would have been able to identify them, post-dissection.
What also stuck me--and this is a much more telling (and damning) commentary--is just how quickly I stopped thinking of what I was viewing as people, and started thinking of them as “displays” or “exhibits.” Even though the word “Bodies” is front and center in the name of the show, they became something else, something easier to deal with. If you’re in an anatomy class and it’s 32 degrees and you can smell… whatever it smells like, I’m sure it’s a very different experience. But in a well lit, clean, pleasant display hall… well, it’s not so intimidating.
As we worked our well deeper into the show, the displays became more elaborate. There was a body stripped of it’s skin and posed so that the internal structure was holding hands with its skin. Another body was cut up into dozens of cross sections.
Amid all the penises, there were a couple female displays, too. These were a little disturbing. The breasts were left on (of course) but flayed, so the fatty breast tissue showed. But the nipples were left on. Now, I’m a big fan of boobs, and I find the nipple a very attractive thing… but not when displayed like this. It’s disconcerting, to say the least, to look at something you usually find arousing and feel a little repulsed.
And if the nipples were bad, what was going on below the waist was even more so. While the male genitals were completely devoid of skin, the females’ were... um, boy, not to get too graphic here, but the fleshy parts of the vagina were left alone. So, yeah, not attractive.
I’m skimming over a lot here… the displays of the circulatory system (everything removed expect blood vessels and associated structures--very cool), the digestive system, the brain… lots of fascinating things to see. The Scientist keep saying, wow, this is a really impressive dissection, meaning that it was done with a great amount of care. Isolating a single nerve in a big muscle isn’t easy, apparently.
At the very end of the show there was a station where you could hold some actual body parts. They’d been prepared like all the others, of course. A lung and a liver. They felt much like you’d expect them to… kinda heavy, spongy plastic. Not unpleasant to hold, unless you really started to think about what you were holding.
I’m really glad a got a chance to see this exhibit. I found it fascinating, and I’d recommend it.
But perhaps it was an odd anniversary gift. I gave my wife a box of chocolates. She gave me a tour of dead bodies.
That statement pretty well sums up why we’re so happy together.