March 13, 2011 12:15 AM   Subscribe

Plasticize Me: Will recent advances in human tissue preservation change the way we think about bodies, death, God… and China? [Previously, Via]
posted by homunculus (13 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a bit confused by the Sophocles quotation - wouldn't the obvious choice for the original Western position on the desecration of unburied dead be the opening lines of the Iliad? I mean, the Iliad is one of, if not the foundational text of Western civilization, and is, like, obsessed with the proper treatment of bodies.
posted by Oxydude at 1:30 AM on March 13, 2011

I find the exhibition of corpses as an entertainment strange and repellent, but of course it's not limited to the plastinated ones: the horrid museum of Guanajuato and the catacombs of Palermo are only two examples of more traditional forms of stiff-ogling.
posted by Segundus at 3:16 AM on March 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

The unclaimed dead.

How... lonely.
posted by louche mustachio at 3:35 AM on March 13, 2011

How we think about God?!

How can you really "think" about God? As soon as you really start to do so in any kind of unbiased, probabilistic manner, God ceases to exist.

Even Occam's Razor -- which encourages simplicity -- also argues against any kind of deity, in that it encourages the simplest possible solution, based on what we know. Well... we, as a species know a whole lot more than what we used to. The only reason God still exists, in the face of logic is because of the fear of mortality, the desire for comforting answers, and the stale suffocation of traditions. God exists not in a state of knowledge, but in one of ignorance -- intentional or otherwise.

So.... unclaimed plasticized human meat is lonely?

I have some plastic-wrapped, frozen pork chops in my freezer, which haven't been claimed yet. Are those lonely too?! Would they be less lonely if fully thawed, plastic removed, dusted in a mixture of corn starch, salt, pepper, and spices, and cooked in a skillet with a bit of olive oil? Or would they still be lonely without, say, a nice homemade mushroom gravy to go with them?!

Perhaps we need more proper uses for dead bodies, so that people feel like their remains won't be going to waste. Or perhaps they would just feel more comfortable about their non-sentient, decaying future, if they knew ahead of time that they'd be embalmed in a nice, homemade mushroom gravy? Boil-in-a-bodybag?!
posted by markkraft at 5:09 AM on March 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

I find the exhibition of corpses as an entertainment strange and repellent, but of course it's not limited to the plastinated ones: the horrid museum of Guanajuato and the catacombs of Palermo are only two examples of more traditional forms of stiff-ogling.

Don't forget Philadelphia's Mütter Museum, one of my favorite places.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:51 AM on March 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

We are machines that developed the ability to contemplate ourselves. This had both good and bad effects. Amongst the good effects were reason, appreciation of consequences and empathy. Amongst the bad effects were existential fear and the invention of god to try to deal with that.
posted by Decani at 6:35 AM on March 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Mommy, I want to go," the little girl said, tugging her mother's hand.

"No, honey, look, you can learn from this. Look at the muscles around the mouth."

The mother was staring at the plastinated corpse's face, at eye level. The little girl at her side was also staring straight ahead -- right into a big, dead penis.

The mother didn't seem to notice it, but all around the room, right at a little girl's eye level, there was penis after penis. Dead. White. Hanging. So that a child walking through this "educational" exhibit of got a peculiar view that parents did not.

There was more than one uncomfortable child at this exhibit I attended.
posted by Faze at 7:31 AM on March 13, 2011 [5 favorites]

From the FAQ at rotten dot com:

Q. How would you feel about someone posting pictures of your dead body on the internet?

A. We probably wouldn't feel anything, what with being dead and all that.
posted by localroger at 9:29 AM on March 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

My (at the time) 5 year old son, greatly enjoyed the Bodies on Display when it was at MOSI, though I wisely carried him on my shoulders most of the time. I really liked showing him the smokers lungs. He was fascinated by the fine threads of the central nervous system. Corpses are cool and we had a great time. Nothing shows equality like the machinery within
posted by Redhush at 10:05 AM on March 13, 2011

Metafilter: penis after penis. Dead. White. Hanging.
posted by CynicalKnight at 10:08 AM on March 13, 2011

My daughter saw the exhibit here in Seattle when she was 4. She's now 8 and asked it if would ever be coming back because she would love to see it again. They have recently been learning about the bone and muscle structures of the body and how it's all held together. She refers to the exhibit often. For young kids, who have yet to develop strong emotional/dogmatic ideas about dead bodies, I think the experience can be more purely educational.

This is what a physical body IS. This is how it's put together. This is what you look like inside. We are all the same inside.

I'm sure many many factors have gone into her loving science and pursuing more of it on her own without the prodding of homework or her father, but I can't help but think that the exhibit had something to do with that. As a dad, I'm lucky to have had the ability to expose her to that learning tool.

As a human being, I could only be so lucky as to have my body live on as the spark of wonder in the mind of a child. They may have been "unknown" or "unclaimed," but my guess is that they are touching more lives than I ever will, alive or deceased.
posted by nickjadlowe at 11:11 AM on March 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

We went to one of these exhibits last year. It was fascinating on several levels, although my kids got bored sooner than expected.

I went out of "scientific" curiosity, or maybe for the natural history aspect. As soon as we walked in, we met some friends who happen to be Buddhist. In talking to them afterward, they were very uncomfortable with the whole idea, not so much because of DEATH and all, but because the bodies had been through a chemical process, and there were unmistakable signs of commercialization of the whole enterprise.

On the other hand, I very much enjoyed the Art aspect of it. Hey! What if this guy had a drawer in his head and we could pull out parts of his body and look inside. I'm cool with using the body as raw material for Art, even if it's only because there are so many around. It does make you see possibilities in the human body you'd never dream of.

But finally, I'm siding with my friends: a year later, I think the Art aspect is just a rationalization for this frozen spectacle, and its a money-maker. (Except for the thin slices, which were removed enough from the human form to have some value as natural history.)

And don't get me wrong - it was a FANTASTIC show, but we went to see Cirque du Soleil a month later, and it struck me that it's really the same thing, except the performers are getting paid (and I must say, seemed to be enjoying themselves more).
posted by sneebler at 1:02 PM on March 13, 2011

I found it fascinating but admit it, Gunther is creepy.
posted by stormpooper at 10:58 AM on March 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

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