1,001 Things To Do With A Cadaver
If seeing skinned humans isn't your thing maybe von Hagens' 'Discover the Human Body' exhibition isn't for you since there are a lot of flayed bodies on show. However there are an increasing number of people who can sit through autopsy videos while munching happily on pop tarts, thanks to shows like C.S.I. that have so desensitised us to the horrors of seeing homicide victims with their guts splayed all over the shop, that teenagers can often tell us what sort of bullets were used to murder someone with by the exit wounds on the body. In my opinion Dr von Hagens displays all the symptoms of the kind of guys who jack off to crime scene photos...but that may have a lot to do with my prejudices on German people in general.
'Aztec priests used to dance around in the flayed skins of victims in fertility ceremonies for their god Xipec Totec. Tell me those dudes didn't know how to throw a bitchin' party!', I say, a little too loudly on the bus. I mention this to Rohani, who has agreed to come along to this thing. She and I had been talking about skinning dead people last Sunday and it seemed only right to watch it done by professionals. Rohani reads the brochure for the Exhibition and mentions some facts about it, 'It says here that there are "...approximately 160 authentic organs, "orgen configurations" (hyuk, hyuk) and a broad collection of whole-body plastinates-"'
'What's a "plasternates"?'
'Corpsy things. Preserved using the...um...plastinisating procedure.'
'-"offers an unprecedented view of the human body." Do you think there'll be a corpse of a pregnant woman with the baby still inside her? How cool would that be!'
The other passengers on the bus stare nervously at each other and edge away, ever so slightly, from Rohani and I. One reason that these folks might have been desperately looking at the outside scenery was that they had no idea where we were heading and may have mistook us for cannibals on the way to the morgue for a bit of brunch. Another reason was they had heard of the 'Discover the Human Body' Exhibition and had heard some of the uncomfortable rumours that surrounded it: namely that Dr. von Hagens used the bodies of executed Chinese criminals. These hurtful, baseless allegations that the eccentric German was buying the corpses of political prisoners such as the Falun Gong (Chinese for: 'Please harvest my organs') by the wagonload hasn't dampened Dr. von Hagens' childlike enthusiasm for his morbid little hobby. Though he has responded publicly to his critics. "Ziss is und outrageous accusation!", replied von Hagens in a press interview, "Vere do these people get off ut saying zese thinks? All my victims..(what's the proper vord?)...subjects gave their bodies willingly. Because they luff. They havink vision. They are luffers of art!"
We step off the bus filled with worried passengers and make our way to the Showgrounds, where the exhibition is taking place. Tickets bought, we go inside....to a pretty lame spectacle. There is fake, plastic vine on the wall. Enya is playing at a low volume in the background. A skinless athlete is in the centre of the room, dead, yet playing basketball. 'Words fail me,' I mention to Rohani who is grinning as she glances around the room.
'I feel like a kid in an abattoir!' she gushes.
Soon we are glancing around at various body parts that have been placed around the edges of the room in glass containers. Most of the display cases have bad descriptions of what these things are followed by a diagram of the body part and (what are presumably) 'WARNING: DO NOT TOUCH!'-type signs written in Korean. Misspelling is rife with most of the exhibits. We stare at shrivelled up bits of liver and think about beef jerky.
Rohani and I come to one of the main exhibits: Skin Man. It is a fleshless guy who is holding his folded skin in one hand, like a matador holding aloft his cape. I stare at- what to my untrained eyes -looked just like a prison tattoo of a knife on his wrist. Rohani reads the description offered out aloud. 'How bad is this? "The skin. This covers your body and prevents your organs from falling to the floor." Well...duh!'
The rest of the day is spent looking at skeletons riding bicycles, looking at circulatory systems, trying not to bump into kids who were running around while their parents chased them, saying things like, 'Come on Jeremy! Put down that gall bladder right NOW young man!'
Now, I did enjoy myself since I don't often see partly formed children with spina bifida floating around in formaldehyde on a Saturday. But speaking as someone who laid down $23 for an entrance fee, I think the least von Hagens could do would be to supply us with a hobo to bisect on the way out.