Sunday, 26 October 2008

How To See Dead People

I have to confess that I went to Gunther von Hagens' 'BODY WORLDS and The Mirror of Time' exhibition at the O2, in Greenwich, last Friday and was totally fascinated by it! I also visited his first exhibition when it was on show in Brick Lane in 2000. I went with my husband and we took student son and middle son with us. After all of the hype, I can remember that they were almost disappointed when there were no gory or scary exhibits!

This time, we were accompanied only by student son, and, as he is studying to be a nurse, it seemed like an opportunity that shouldn't be missed. It is a shame, in my opinion, that von Hagens' exhibitions are sensationalised so much, although the man himself seems to encourage this attitude, to some extent! He is a bit of a showman, but he has to pay his bills, like anyone else, I suppose! Unfortunately, though, some photographers seem to go out of their way, to capture the exhibits in the most unnatural light possible and I have been startled by some of the photographs I have seen, even though I have not been startled by any of the exhibits in situ. It's surprising the effect that a little colour enhancement and a dark background can have on a subject.

I've found that the 'bodies' on show appear as if they have been manufactured from plastic, once they have undergone the process of
plastination. Anyone viewing, in the hope of seeing blood and gore, or of being frightened stupid, will be disappointed. The only thing I found slightly scary was the smoker's blackened lung! What a relief that I only smoked for a short while, in my misguided youth and never became addicted to it.

Perhaps you are already moving on to the next post, because you feel that the Body Worlds exhibitions are unethical, or perhaps you object for religious reasons. I feel I should point out, that the individuals appearing in this exhibition gave permission for their bodies to be used, in this way, for educational purposes, but, naturally, I can only speak for myself, when I say that I find them informative and interesting, without being humiliating, or disrespectful. For anyone studying anatomy, for any reason, a visit to one of the Body Worlds exhibitions would be invaluable. In my experience, they are not viewed by ghouls, or by youngsters looking for kicks, (as long as you leave our 2 out of the equation, when they went to the first exhibition, that is!) they are visited by people who are simply interested in understanding their own bodies, or other peoples.

The only part of this exhibition, which I found very sad, was the room where there are several foetuses on display, at various stages of development. I lost a baby myself, and had to go through the labour, when I was 6 months pregnant, even though I knew that the baby was dead, so this section stirred a few memories, for me. It would have been a simple matter to avoid this part of the exhibition, however, if I had found it too upsetting. Anyone thinking of visiting the exhibition, with young children, should also be made aware of the fact that all genitals are on display. Personally, I feel sure that many an innocent young woman could be saved from a fearful shock, on her wedding night, by a timely visit to a Body Worlds exhibition!

Speaking for myself, I don't find the whole body plastinates of much interest. I am much more fascinated by the body parts in glass cases, the healthy and diseased organs, the transparent body slices and the interesting facts accompanying most of the displays. The current exhibition focuses on health, wellbeing and the ageing process, so there is some interesting information and advice about following a healthy lifestyle, with the consequences of failing to do so being plain to see.

During this visit, I learned a lot, but 3 of the things that really caught my attention were:
  1. we begin to lose our hearing from the age of 18
  2. taking our size into consideration, we should only live for 25 years (eg a dormouse only lives a few months, whereas an elephant can live up to 80 years) and
  3. it is possible to die from constipation (!)

I am careful not to fall into vast expanses of water, and never climb to the top of high buildings, in case I fall off, but dying from constipation is a danger I had never even considered! Fortunately, I suffer from panic attacks if I am more than 6 feet away from a box of Bran Flakes or Weetabix, so it would be truly amazing if I ever died from constipation, but there you are - you've been warned!

Another thing I was interested to read about was, that the part of the brain controlling judgement and risk taking doesn't develop until adulthood. It reminded me of one of my mother's favourite sayings. 'You can't put an old head on young shoulders!' As the mother of 3 sons aged 25, 23 and 19, I feel that this particular saying should be engraved upon my heart.

At the end of the exhibition, there were leaflets available, which gave you the opportunity to donate your own body, after your death, to be used for educational purposes, in future exhibitions. I considered the idea, but rejected it, when I realised that, although I would not object to anyone examining my insides, after my death, I couldn't bear the thought of anyone seeing me without my clothes!


SMS said...

I was totally fascinated by the reactions of people experiencing the Body Worlds in Manchester a few months ago. Studying the bodies of the dead had an amazing effect on the living, young and old.

auntiegwen said...

Pardon, I can't seem to hear you !

Mean Mom said...

sms - Yes, I know what you mean. It was interesting to watch other people learning from the exhibits. I didn't see anyone recoiling in horror, whilst I was there. I hope that you didn't either!

auntiegwen - Speak up woman! Stop that mumbling! (Oh, dear - we joke, but I know that it's happening to me!)

Stinking Billy said...

mean mom, I'm not sure where you would find 'many innocent young women' but your following presumption of a 'fearful shock' confirms what I have always suspected: That only men of above average, erm, size would ever dream about leaving their parts to go on show for women to ogle. ;-)

Mean Mom said...

stinking billy - LOL! I don't know where we would find any innocent young women, these days, either. Not that I would be looking, of course, but, if I discover where they all hanging out (pardon the expression!) shall I let you know??

I couldn't help but notice that all of the male genitals measured the same on my tape measure.

Rose said...

I have to confess, MM, that I would pass on this type of exhibition. Not out of moral or ethical convictions, I'm just too squeamish. I admire those who are willing to donate their bodies to science because we have all benefited from them. But I wouldn't want anyone looking at me without my clothes either!

Interesting and very helpful to know one can die from constipation. I think I'll take an extra dose of fiber tonight.

(Just left a comment on your last post, too; don't know how I missed it!)

Retiredandcrazy said...

Look no further - I'm an innocent young woman!

Mean Mom said...

rose - I can understand you feeling squeamish about it, although, to my mind, none of it looks real after the plastination process. The thought of it might be upsetting enough, though, if you are that way inclined.

I wouldn't like to be exposed in such a way, either, but some people see it as a better alternative than traditonal choices. Hmmmm.....

Most definitely, eat whole grains!!

Mean Mom said...

retired and crazy - Now, something here doesn't quite ring true, but I do so admire a positive thinker!

Edward said...

Sooner you than me! I'm not good with anything lacking skin, and Dr von Hagens is just creepy!

Mean Mom said...

edward - You're right, of course, von Hagens is creepy. I think he is naturally inclined to be weird, but I also think that he is a bit of a 'wind-up merchant'!

Would you believe that there was a man dressed like him, in the queue? It wasn't him, but I had to check, just in case!

Grit said...

you are brave; i feel mortality too keenly and wouldn't be strong enough for something like this... i would probably spend the entire time at the exhibit blubbing about death. i blame motherhood. i can't pass a pink pompom without sobbing.

Mean Mom said...

grit - I can't be too girlie in a family full of men!

I went for years without being able to cry, even when I wanted to and then I entered the menopause. Yes, pink pompoms would do it, nowadays, but I have to try and hide the tears from the rest of the family!

Suburbia said...

At least I have an excuse for not hearing the Husband now! Not that I needed one, and it's strange, but I can always hear him when he snores!
Is there a body bit that helps you snore do you think?! Perhaps I could donate his (after death you understand!!)it must be huge ;)

Mean Mom said...

I know that I don't hear as well as I used to, but I didn't realise that I'd been losing my hearing since the age of 18! Depressing!

Snoring isn't at all romantic, is it? Does your husband lie on his back, so that his tongue occasionally blocks his airway? How scary is that???

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Dying of boredom must be worse than dying of constipation? Last weekend my husband and myself spent an evening with two self absorbed people who did fuck all but talk about themselves, talked over us whenever we tried to change the subject and were the two biggest arseholes we have socialised with in ages! Give me a turd blockage anytime to that!

Mean Mom said...

mob - LOL! These people could be compared to constipation, then - both a pain in the arse??

I have a couple of friends who ask me how I am, allow me to get out a few words and then butt in, once more hijacking the conversation! I have a quiet voice and I don't interrupt. It is easy to talk over me. I think this is one of the reasons why I blog!

Don't risk dying of boredom! Share your weekends with friends you can 'have a laugh' with!

Maggie May said...

Gosh......... how did I miss this post?!
Most informative and made a good read.
I am now fully aware of the constipation problem and like you panic if I can't get neat to a weetabix or bran flake!
Guessed about the hearing but am amazed that the youngsters cannot do risk assessments. Well, that would explain a lot!
I would probably find this exhibition interesting. Sad about the babies though.
I reckon every school child should be made to look at a blackened lung!

Robin said...

We missed this exhibit when it was in our city. I was also a bit nervous how our young boys would view it, but I really wanted to see it.

I had read about the part of the brain (especially in boys) that doesn't mature until thier twenties, heck sometime I chant it to get me through these growing up years.

Mean Mom said...

maggie may - So glad you haven't fallen out with me! Yes, I hate to go on holiday and find that I can't have Weetabix or Bran Flakes! I think you would enjoy the exhibition and it WOULD be a good idea for children to view a blackened lung!

robin - Yes, I don't blame you for being cautious after all of the hype.

I wish that I'd known about the brain stuff, before!

Deb said...

Hi ~ I am just out wandering around in blogland and stopped in for a visit. I saw Bodyworks last year in Calif - and had many of the same reactions/thoughts as you did. I have 2 sons, 23 and 25, and also took some comfort in learning that their judgment should be kicking in soon! I enjoyed my visit - and I'll be back!

Mean Mom said...

deb - It's good to know that someone else enjoyed the exhibition, on the whole, too! Youngsters have so many temptations, these days, it's impossible to avoid all of them, I think.

Thanks for dropping by. It's great to have new people! (And also the usual people, of course!)

scrappysue said...

i was once constipated and i ACTUALLY THOUGHT i was going to die, so that's not a shock hehe

A Mother's Place is in the Wrong said...

That's scary - the bit about dying of constipation I mean. Didn't Elvis die of that?
Also fascinating about the part of the brain dealing with risk-taking etc, now that makes perfect sense. Son should now be totally sensible (and risk averse) at 29? Please God.
Another great Post MM. Margot xx

Mean Mom said...

a mother's place - Did he? Oooh! Not as unlikely as I thought, then! I tend to think that if you are following a decent diet, then there should not be a problem. Some drugs can make you constipated, though, can't they and also, as you become older, your digestive system may not work as well. It may suddenly become difficult to stay 'regular'!!

Mean Mom said...

scrappysue - I love it that you've been constipated only once in your life and wonder what sort of diet you follow! It must be excellent! I keep up with my bran flakes, wholemeal bread and fruit, but it doesn't always work, for some reason.