Thursday, March 8, 2012

Anatomical Edu-Tainment


In 2005, The Virginian Pilot featured an article on the various traveling anatomical art shows. One of them, 'The Universe Within', would be in San Francisco while I was there. I was eager to see this show glorifying the design of the human body as art.
I was prepared to be enchanted.
The room at the Masonic Auditorium was filled with bodies and body parts, not unlike my anatomy lab of yore. But there the difference ended.
All the bodies were small Orientals. Not unusual, I reassured myself, the show originated in China. But the single race show made concerns ping through my mind. I was troubled with the lack of diversity. Would this show be accepted if a different sole race were illustrated? How would I feel, what would it mean, if the bodies on display were all Black, all Middle Eastern, or even all Jewish? What if the show had originated out of Europe's concentration camps? And then there's the question of consent; had the previous occupants of these bodies or their families consented to their remains being flown around the world to be gawked at, or had this been a decision by the Chinese government? I was uneasy.
My dis-ease grew. Several of the bodies had been displayed in a manner meant to be whimsical. One body, sans skin and with flayed muscles, rode a bicycle. Another stood, one arm akimbo, with the other hand holding up a hanger on which his entire epidermis hung like a suit of clothes. Morbidly fascinated, I crept closer...eep. They had cut the eyebrows out of the face skin and reattached them above the eyes. In fact, all the artistically dissected corpses still had eyebrows.
When I lived in the Philippines during my Navy father's assignment there, a favorite gift purchase by the military stationed there were sets of taxidermy frogs, displayed engaged in various activities like playing in rock bands. Frogs seated at tiny drum sets, sticks in their hands(?). Frogs standing with miniature electric guitars slung over their shoulders, frozen in a riff. My adolescent mind knew that they were gross.
Today's anatomy as edu-tainment proved too gross for me. The respect that we were taught for the bodies donated for medical dissection seemed lacking in this venue. Mortified for my part in supporting this desecration of the dead, I scurried out to tour Chinatown and Fisherman's Wharf.
I don't regard myself as either squeamish or prissy. However, I'm also a bit grossed out that Roy Rogers stuffed Trigger (which to me is only acceptable if Roy made arrangements for he himself to be stuffed later and mounted in the saddle.) Does this sort of show enhance the anatomical education of the masses, with the end justifying the means?