Friday, July 30, 2010

No Bodies for Erin

The "Bodies" show is here in Cleveland.

The much-heralded exhibit features carefully dissected and plasticized cadavers. Goat and Lil' OB will probably attend, but not me.

Don't get me wrong. I realize that this is an Important Educational and Enlightened Experience. And yes I am a dyed-in-the-wool open-minded art-supporting liberal, but still, I'm not going. Plastic dead guys and Erin don't mix. I know. The "Body Worlds 2" Exhibit was here five years ago and my peeps convinced me to attend. The proceedings did not go well.

While others marveled and pointed, I swallowed hard and cast my eyes down.

Moms were trying too hard. "Do you see this, Brittany?" lilted one as my queasiness bubbled. "That's an actual intestine. That's where your poop goes. Isn't this fascinating?"

People were commentating. "Jesus H Christ, no wonder this guy croaked."

People were extrapolating. "These people signed up for this. This is what they wanted."


I am not the least bit uncomfortable with nudity--on live people. Dead naked people turned out to be a different story. Virtues of integrity notwithstanding, as I stepped among the plasticized cadavers, an internal dialogue ensued:

No, Erin. No! There is not. There is not a severely twisted necrophiliac walking around this room right now having sexual fantasies. NO! So just stop thinking about that nonsense this very minute.

Between the live people, the dead people and my imagined army of necrophiliacs, I was crumpling, fading more with each carefully preserved corpse.

And then I saw something that actually interested me: the sinus display.

That labyrinthine network has plagued me throughout my life, with chronic bouts of snoring, hay fever, congestion and sneezing. The connection between all those tubes and cavities has been a source of mysterious fascination for me ever since I learned that tilting my head a certain way sometimes aids in the draining of my beleaguered nasal passages. So I closed in on the dissected skull to see what I have visualized for years. I blinked for a moment or two, then revelation dawned.

This was some poor guy's head!

I snapped away only to find myself before a whole pregnant woman whose cadaver was "exploded" in order to expose the condition of pregnancy. She had died in her fifth month. Her frame was so slight; she might have been a teenager.

I backed away and collapsed onto a bench. As I hugged either elbow and rocked back and forth, I kept thinking, surely someone else in here is freaking as badly as I am.

I searched faces for a brow knitted with bewilderment, a set of lips pursed in distress, but found just the opposite. It was near the end of the exhibit and curiosity and been replaced with ennui. People yawned and sighed and checked their watches.

Two fiftyish women in polyester pantsuits moved bovine-like past the plasticized obese man.

"I am starving," said the one in lime green, pulling a tissue from her purse.

"Me too," responded the one in peach. "Let's get something to eat."

The blood drained from my head. I rose zombie-like and walked through the exit. A counter, upon which a half dozen thick journals lay open, lined the wall. "Please leave your comments," implored the accompanying sign.

"But what about the people?" I wrote, my script barely legible.

I set the pen down and stumbled out into the air.

* * *

That experience affected me so profoundly that I wince each time I pass a billboard advertising the current "Bodies" show. For those who are interested, here's a more levelheaded review.

I took the photos for today's post at the East Cleveland Cemetery on E 118th street. Click on any to enlarge. This is about as close as I can get to images of the dead, but even walking those grounds filled me with a vague distress.

There is a voice inside of me that I don't hear often, but it is familiar nonetheless.

Be careful with the dead guys.


The Fool said...

"Be careful with the dead guys"

Indeed! And I get to comment first, before this thread unwinds and twists right let me say kudos!! This is a fine piece of writing, Erin. I really enjoyed this. Thanks for the smile...and the *creep* up the spine.

Bill said...

Yeah. I wish I could write like that! I'm sure it's an educational experience but I prefer live bodies for entertainment purposes.

J9 said...

I couldn't go see it either - I passed out looking at a slide of blood at age 7, and still haven't recovered! I am ok in cemetaries though, so I guess that's a plus.

Anonymous said...

I'm reminded of those "Happy Days" episodes where Ralph would write "You wanted to see It" (I think) and request "Human Sacrifice." It seems us humans have an insatiable appetite to up the ante physically and psychologically with our entertainment. At what point does it become unhealthy?


standing on my head said...

i've seen the "bodies" exhibit twice, here in vegas. i'm fascinated by the body and how it works-kinda goes along with yoga.
this particular exhibit disturbs me. when i questioned the volunteers about the "provenance" of the bodies, my question went unanswered, ignored, or blown off. i have since read that the bodies came from prisoners and the homeless in china, and no, they didn't volunteer for this.

the creator of the technique of plastination, gunther von hagen, has his own exhibition, and has in fact documented, and gotten releases from, the donors.
that, i can live with. i would do the same.

Erin O'Brien said...

Thanks to all for reading and commenting.

My reaction to this phenomenon is so visceral, it sparks superstition in me. It's strange to think that someone like me reacts this way, but there it is. No matter how I look at it, the idea of using human remains as fodder for display freaks me out.

I'm not criticizing anyone else's opinion on this, just putting my own out there. I even felt a bit off as I constructed this post.

I'm a wimp!

Kirk Jusko said...

Some people are just so transparent...

Anonymous said...

Erin I feel the same way.

James Old Guy

Amy L. Hanna said...

nobaf sez: I'll pass, thanks.

And when I finally do pass, it'd better be a deeper rest than that afforded to bandied specimens.