body world exhibition
November 19, 2002 11:12 AM   Subscribe

Previously discussed here, the Body World exhibition in, London, Brick Lane is hosting what is to be the last publicly performed autopsy before they are banned. I've seen the exhibition and felt that it was done very well, but I'm not sure ill be attending the autopsy with as much haste. Macabre voyeurism or lay man intrigue? Its being rumored that is may also be televised on channel 4
posted by monkeyJuice (15 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Layperson intrigue! How cool! Although with all the damn Hannibal Lecter movies out these days, there may be some stiff competition.

(Sorry - guess you could say my lack of comedic rigor accounts for my dead stupid puns...)
posted by DenOfSizer at 11:37 AM on November 19, 2002

I'd love to attend - bring Body World to the U.S.!
posted by rotifer at 12:11 PM on November 19, 2002

I'm going to copy my post from another thread here: It is very odd, to me, that so many science projects are now being considered art. The preserved sliced sheep, the preserved flayed corpses, the preserved whales, and now the poop machine and the autopsy are really just biology exhibits that are called "art" because they are in an art museum instead of a natural history museum. Whatever - if it gets people thinking about science (especially art-types) - it's OK with me.
posted by trigfunctions at 12:36 PM on November 19, 2002

I took an human anatomy class a few years back and strongly recommend it, for many of the reasons van Hagens states on the website.

The things I feared actually turned out to be minor considerations: smell was not as much of a problem as I thought it would be (formaldahyde, ew) and I didn't pass out at the sight of a dead body. Instead, I came away from the class with awe and respect for the complexity of the human body.

I hope one day to have an opportunity to see the Body World exhibition. Sounds facinating.
posted by echolalia67 at 12:54 PM on November 19, 2002

"I'm not sure ill be attending the autopsy"


While I doubt it, I wish this grammatical error would have been intentional.
posted by CoolHandPuke at 1:59 PM on November 19, 2002

I saw Body Worlds for free because a friend of a friend was working there. I overpaid. The woman from whom I regularly buy The Big Issue wrote a review of it in this week's magazine. She also thought it utter cack.
posted by Dan Brilliant at 2:41 PM on November 19, 2002

Autopsies may not be taken too seriously in routine medical cases, but this editorial from the Mayo Clinic Proceedings (PDF with link to accompanying paper) is one of many in the medical literature suggesting otherwise. Here is a similar editorial from JAMA. Even in the most routine cases, autopsies reveal better than anything else whether diagnoses were correct, whether treatment was effective, how far a disease has progressed in a patient and so on. They are also useful in epidemiological studies because they pick up asymptomatic diseases and give information on their incidence. I feel strongly enough on this subject that I pressed for an autopsy on my father when he died in 1998. The information we got helped all of the family come to terms with his death.

For those who are concerned about the dignity of the decedent, autopsies are at least as professionally conducted as embalming; indeed, in the autopsies I have seen, the access to the organs provided by the autopsy provides for better embalming. Funeral homes may cut corners.

If you are interested in any aspect of human biology and get a chance to see an autopsy, by all means do it. If you can't see one in person, The Virtual Autopsy gives you a feeling for the process, as well as a chance for those with medical knowledge to test their diagnostic skills.
posted by TedW at 5:00 PM on November 19, 2002

Ugh. I saw it a few years ago and though it was billed as a "scientific exploration" of the human body, it clearly was not, but was simply disgusting and macabre.

The unnecessary theatrics and exploitativeness of the poses of each corpse was most disturbing. I mean, a flayed cadaver striking a heroic pose while holding its own skin above its head? A corpse playing chess with its skull removed to display its brain? A corpse with its muscles partly disconnected to resemble wings and called something like "apollo"? A flayed corpse riding the corpse of a horse? Corpse basketball?

What the heck is "scientific" about that? It's like some disturbed teenager's idea of album cover illustration.

I can't criticize this atrocity enough. Is it even legal?

I remember a story about an English guy who tried to encase his wife in resin when she died, and got thrown in jail for improper burial. Isn't that where this Gunther von Hagens belongs instead of playing 'slice up Malibu Barbie' with cadavers?
posted by hama7 at 7:56 PM on November 19, 2002

I saw the exhibit following my brother's 27th Birthday. It was an interesting experience to walk past a dead man's testicles swinging to and fro in the draft. Whilst fairly hungover.

I kinda agree with the sentiments expressed by hama7. I'd definitely agree that parts of Bodyworlds were not educational - the mother and foetus comes to mind - but just upsetting and full of horrible tragedy. I mean come on, does anyone think the mother gave her explicit permission for her body to be shown like this? Or did she merely donate her corpse to 'medical research'?

On the other hand, I found the less sensational models simply fascinating. Even the bits at the start (supposedly the boring part) such as artificial joints grafted onto bones were amazing. The free-standing models of the blood vessels (made by solidifying the blood and dissolvin the flesh) were beautiful.

But maybe alcohol skewed my judgement.
posted by pots at 8:34 PM on November 19, 2002

Monkeyjuice, I am not aware that either the Bodyworld exhibition or indeed public autopsies are actually going to be banned, I think the mention of this on your link is just the PR department pre-empting the inevitable public backlash.

Which, suprisingly, has been slow to materialise. What has been fascinating about public reaction to the show and the autopsy in particular has been the publics general enthusiasm for both events, although admittedly contrasted with a minority responding with sheer revulsion. If the attendence figures and never-ending queues are anything to go by though, it has been a resounding success.

I won't comment on the content of the exhibition as it has been covered before, but I think the idea of reviving the public autopsy is a breathtakingly bold move, albeit one with an eye to the attendant publicity (good or bad, it's all the same...). As well as what echolalia67 and TedW have said, the autopsy and the exhibition remind us that our own bodies are living, moving lumps of flesh, blood, skin and water, challenging a medical industry that is increasingly encouraging us to believe that only they know what is best for us - namely expensive, copyrighted drug treatements.
posted by barnsoir at 2:53 AM on November 20, 2002

I don't understand the mentality of people who want this banned. Why?

Autopsies are performed in Britain all the time - some of them must have audiences. These aren't banned. So what's changed that should make this criminal? The general public being invited in?

How can it be obscene when viewed by someone who willingly chooses to see it but not by medical professionals?

If the live performance is banned then should videos of autopsies be banned? If they should, then shouldn't videos and broadcasts of operations be banned too? There's hardly a minute passes by on national television when a doctor doesn't have his hands on the giblets of some poor unfortunate.

If the public are banned from seeing autopsies how far should a ban go? Doctors only? Nurses? Hospital cleaning staff? Hospital caterers?

Will hospitals have to ensure that areas where autopsies are carried out are secured so that the hospital is sure it won't be prosecuted for obscenity? I mean, an unqualified person could walk in and that would be illegal.

Personally it's not my idea of a good night out but the audience know what they're in for, the person donated their body for this purpose and the family of the deceased will be there too. Why the hell shouldn't people see this if they want to?
posted by dodgygeezer at 6:41 AM on November 20, 2002

Didn't Jonathan Miller do a televised (though admittedly pre-recorded and edited) autopsy twenty years ago in The Body in Question?
posted by Grangousier at 8:23 AM on November 20, 2002

Having seen the "Body World" deal, I have a hard time believing that von Hagens plans on a purely professional autopsy. I don't think the guy could restrain himself that much.

My personal sentiment runs that dead folks shouldn't be entertainment for the paying public, autopsies included. A scientific, explained presentation is one thing. A bunch of yokels buying tickets to see some guy with his hands in another person's entrails is another.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 2:38 PM on November 20, 2002

I watched a bit of it before I came to work this morning (it was broadcast at 23:45 on Channel 4 last night). I've never seen any other autopsy, so obviously can't comment on how standard the autopsy was, but from what I've seen so far, there was certainly no showmanship, other than the fact the van Hagen wore his trademark trilby which gave the affair a vaguely surreal atmosphere.
Channel 4 seemed a little on the cautious side with what they showed, for example, when the top of the dead guy's skull was sawn off, the process was obscured by the three surgeons.
The audience for the most part seemed to be there out of interest in the subject matter, and having seen the Body Worlds exhibition I can understand why. That exhibition really exploded my understanding and appreciation of the human body, and what I saw of last nights display had a similar effect. To fully understand the interaction between the various body organs, and the consequences of what we do to our bodies on a daily basis through smoking, drinking etc., it really does no good to read about it in books, you really have to see it in the flesh, so to speak.
posted by chill at 1:59 AM on November 21, 2002

I don't understand some people : some of you are disgusted by an autopsy or by the mere idea of dissecting a body, a _lifeless_ body. I'm way more disgusted by war crimes and atrocities, people gassed, tortured, electrocuted, injected with poisons because they don't believe in a system or because they're miserable when it comes to respect elementary society rules ; people not treated with the best drugs because "oh we don't have the money for more research, it's expensive" while the very same people saying that may be buying a $5M house somewhere in some exotic country, or just throwing money out of the window because they have way too much.
posted by elpapacito at 2:58 PM on November 22, 2002

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