Monday, August 08, 2005

The image directly to the left is an example of walking a fine line between science and shock-value entertainment. This weekend I went to see "Body Worlds 2" at the Great Lakes Science Center while visiting Cleveland. Body Worlds 1 is showing at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry.

Basically, it's a display of real preserved human bodies in various "creative" poses, with various layers of tissue removed so visitors can see the inner workings of the human anatomy up close and in person.

This particular dude (from Body Worlds 1) is carrying his own skin in one arm.

The exhibit is definitely worth seeing. Seeing the musculature, the organs, the circulatory system (JUST the circulatory system with no tissue!) of real people is a biology lesson unlike any other.

But, a part of me cringed during the entire two hours I spent at the exhibit. Each body is posed -- kicking a soccer ball, doing yoga, skateboarding, etc. And the poor guy who died of cancer probably never touched a skateboard in his life. And here's his body, skinned, gutted, twisted upside down into some skate trick pose, on display for thousands to peek into his butthole to see the intestinal tract. It's the gimmick that bothered me -- the expectation of visitors to have an aesthetic appreciation for real bodies of once living people, contorted and cut up. Marketing this as a "creative" and "artistic" exhibit seemed wrong.

But it goes to show that people will swallow anything if you present it in the right context. Put these figures in a SCIENCE museum, and people come in droves. But if I were to dim the lights and stand behind the bodies in a hockey mask, just start rolling the camera and you've got a horror film.

I personally ignored the "art" of the exhibit and focused on the anatomy. I did feel a sense of awe, but it was because I saw what an intricate and well-designed machine the human body really is. Check the exhibit out -- it's worth it.