April 9, 2009

The Age of Desensitization, Part 2

Ch. 20.2: Who IsTaking It Too Far Now?
Last spring, it was announced that Gunther von Hagens' BodyWorlds was coming to Edmonton. It was going to be showcased for 4 or 5 months at the Telus World of Science, and it was promoted in such a way that all people from Edmonton were required to attend, if they were not totally helpless, clueless, or penniless.

From the start, I had my mind pretty much made up about this sort of public display of the human body. I was reluctant to go to this show altogether. I just didn't understand why people (living people, that is) would be interested in pointing at, gawking at, and yes, even touching human body parts! Maybe it's because I do enough of that to living bodies? I don't know... (that is a joke, by the way). But towards early Fall, I went down and picked up my $28 timed-entry ticket so that I couldn't be criticized as one of those closed-minded ignorant fools that doesn't appreciate art, and (more importantly) to see if my reasons for not being thrilled about this idea of exhibit were the least bit justified.

It was a bloodbath. Torsos everywhere! Human flesh detached from its muscle detached from its skeleton detached from its organs. Some were intermingling with each other, others playing sports, and one even riding a horse?! I haven't seen much worse in some of the goriest of thrasher movies.

Okay, I'm full of shit. As usual. Why does he even write this crap? Actually, from an artistic point of view, this "exhibit" was very tastefully done. It was clean, informative, thorough, and just a little bit spooky. But like the Cormac McArthur's, "The Road", I just don't totally understand why it had to be done at all.

I am going to argue that the Human Race is already desensitized enough from anatomics. We see the human body in every way shape and form either from television, the internet, or if we are exceptionally unfortunate, the hospital. BodyWorlds was/is nothing more than a perverse way of using dead people to make a quick buck. Or a quick 28 bucks. Fine. The high ticket price for me to walk (not run) through a museum is probably necessary to ensure that quality of the exposition maintains very high standards - from the polished display cases holding the slices of brain, tumored lungs, and swollen hearts to the informational video on the plasticizing of a human body to the amount of energy & work it must take to pack up and travel around with hundreds of rubbery fragments of corpse-statues all around the world...I know that I would want my staff to be well compensated for, and my surroundings kept with a certain amount of cleanliness and respect if that was in fact my body/body parts they were lugging around!

It is my unpopular opinion that when it comes to the human body, we foolish ignorant commoners are on a need-to-know basis. As we can learn from Charlie Harper, it is a good idea to not skip out on our Grade 8 Health class. But besides that? Who cares. Sure, some of us will become LPNs, RNs, medics, doctors, and dentists. But this will forever be the minority of the population. Most of us will work in sales and just won't need to know about the goings-ons of the many bodily functions. We don't really need to know what part goes where, or how long or short some things are, or what kinds of things are generated or processed in different compartments of the body. I can say this now because I have been mostly healthy for all of my life, and therefore cannot easily empathize with the many people that have gone through some form of ailment or another. Even so. If I had been diagnosed with morbid obesity, for example, I could benefit from simply taking my doctor's advice to start leading a healthier lifestyle, without having to go to BodyWorlds to see what slices of human fat looks like around the muscle and nervous systems.

Today's kids grow fast enough as it is. They want to be all grown up and be independent, free from parental oppression. They want to be exposed to as much and as often as possible so that they can get a feel for what may or may not be good for them. This includes exposure to and comprehension of the human body. But there is a fundamental lack of understanding for these children who don't see this artwork as a previous functioning contributing human member of society. There is that definite disconnect. But it is the adults (teachers - since it will be mostly schools who will be taking hoards of immature groups of teenagers, and younger, to experience the BodyWorlds, without direct parental guidance) that will teach that free will has allowed these individuals to give up their bodies to art/science (I don't know which it is) just as they may do so for medical research. These two things are not the same. Sure, the soul may leave the body upon death (did I mention no BodyWorld statues were formally politicians?) But that doesn't mean that the body shouldn't be prepared in a more ashes-to-ashes, dust-to-dust sort of way. Different cultures deal with their dead in tons of different ways - none of which include preserving the corpse for public display. So what makes Von Hagen so special?

On my 3.5 hour tour of BodyWorlds (trust me, that's thorough), I had watched scores of children randomly bump around from display case to statue to other display case, tugging on mommy's arm, saying "What's that brown spot" and "Where is that guy's nose". The majority of people were well-behaved, but after a while you begin to understand that this should be an at least 14A rated exhibit. I wouldn't say that there are proportionately more immature mannerless children out there who don't know how to behave in public, but rather, there is just more numbers of them as populations grow. Some degree of maturity and knowledge about life, death, and respect is required to not ruin the display for everyone else. Never was this so more obvious then when I had reached the "baby" display.

This especially delegated room was fully equipped with warning signs saying "contents within this display may be sensitive to some to view". In it, the development of a fertilized egg into a fetus into a near-term baby were displayed in glassware, ranging in sizes of a pickle jar to something that would hold a ~10 lb baby. It contained over 30 deceased and preserved human beings from a few weeks, up to thirty some weeks old, complete with a mother who had died with child prior to birth.

I didn't last in that room for very long. It was somewhat emotional.

But it was art! It was science?! I forget...But as glad I am for being able to see it, I still do not think it is necessary to be seen. Not unless you are a training medical staff, or you can prove a certain level of maturity that shows that you will in fact benefit from seeing something as ludicrous as a muscle-less gymnast hoisting himself up on the ropes.

I also want to leave with you with the thought of where we might go from here, with respect to de-humanizing ourselves --- de-sensitizing us from the unnatural things in the world --- rap song after webpage after lizard-man at a time. A lot of progress made in the medical field will ask for us to hold onto our stomachs as we enter an age of stem cell harvesting and transplants. The ethical dilemmas and criticisms are numerous, but certainly we will benefit from that kind of technology! How could we not?! I remember back in 2001, we talked about the ethical debates of stem cell research, as I was such a good product of Edmonton Catholic Schools. All I really remember though, was thinking how cloning would be okay if they used it on Scarlett Johanneson. Or wait! That was David Letterman's joke just last week. But seriously. I wish I did know what was next! We all seem so ready to cave in and try anything, without sufficient benefit/cost analysis. I think maybe we should spend a little bit more time at least thinking about how we are going to re-sensitize our kids as our society seems so hell-bent on desensitizing them in so many ways, without even realizing it!

Time for dinner. Cow tongue tonight.

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