For a walking science book, the Body World exhibit and its ilk sure court a lot of controversy. In Europe, the bodies are now having sex and scandal has erupted once again.
Gunther von Hagens, the anatomist who discovered the process to preserve the bodies with plastic, opened Cycles of Life in Zurich this week, and Zurichers are up in arms. Why? Because this time the preserved corpses are not only stripped of their skin, but they're posed having sex with each other. If everyone is dead, is that still necrophilia? If the performers are dead, is it still porn? The exhibit first, er, popped up in Germany this May and lawmakers in the country asked that it be banned.
This is a new twist for the Body World exhibits, which started off just posing bodies in different positions and featuring different body parts like the heart and the brain. In 2008 Body Worlds & The Mirror of Time debuted featuring corpses of infants and the elderly. Since once people have seen one dead body they've seen them all, Body Worlds seems intent on finding new and disgustingly exciting ways of titillating patrons. Once they've gotten the real life dead dolls doing it, where else is there to go?
This isn't the first time the exhibit has created controversy, but it's usually over the origin of the bodies. In 2006, the New York Times exposed the booming body business in China, which supplies many of the cadavers for the exhibits. Many of the bodies didn't have documentation, it turned out, may have been the remains of political prisoners.
Last Spring, Premier Exhibitions reached a settlement with the New York Attorney General's office agreeing that from here on it will get authorization from the deceased before displaying any their remains. As for the bodies already on display, they issue warnings that say they may belong to Chinese political prisoners. Also, anyone who previously went to the exhibit is eligible for a refund.
- Earlier this year, a French judge ruled that a bodies exhibit produced by a French company was indecent and should be shut down.
So displaying dead people like so many action figures hasn't gone over that well here and abroad. Just wait until they try to show corpses having sex in America. Between the human rights violations and the Puritanism, this will be something both the right and the left can finally agree to hate.