Saturday, 20 September 2008

Something rocked my boat....

There are a few things that rock my boat. I guess you may have gathered my take or slant in life, but one thing I am passionate about is anatomy and another – books.

I mentioned my youthful infestation with ‘Pooh’ in a previous post. This new post might suggest another serious infestation and it may well explain, in a convoluted way, how I happened upon any facility for critical thinking about the following rant!

Remember the story of ‘The King’s New Clothes’ – Hans Anderson I believe (I can hear Dick Van Dyke singing in my head as I type – I had a record of stories when I was very very young). If you want a short recap, (off the top of my head and with many apologies to the original…), the tale is about a King who wanted to be the best dressed King around. He was visited by two Tailors who wanted to make a quick buck. These two geezers persuaded the King that they could make him a unique suit with the most prized cloth, so rare and fine was its quality, that only the most observant and bright could detect it. They ‘showed’ him a ‘sample’ – which he naturally agreed was genuinely unique, so fine as to be like the shadow of a wisp of silk.
The Tailors discussed design and price, said it would be ready in a few weeks and went off, smiling I bet.

The King was so excited and soon news of the marvellous suit of clothes was known far and wide – throughout his kingdom. Everyone was told that only the most genteel, wise and perceptive people could detect the quality of the cloth and people flocked to see the king as he paraded the streets on the celebratory day that he chose to wear it publicly.
Everyone “Oh’d” and “Ah’d” as His Maj. swept through the streets. They turned to the folk next to them saying “…Such fine lines – what rich colours, such subtle design….”

Till a little five year old girl pushed to the front of the crowd, pointed her finger at the King and shouted “Oi! He’s in the nuddy – look everyone, the King’s got no clothes on!”

You get my drift?

Well…in my world - and yours too, there is an anatomist with a hat.

Not the Cat in the Hat, a man in a hat. I think he’s really a Dr.

He wants (by his own admission) to be the best anatomist in the world. Well, there are some fabulous anatomy teachers – take Dr. Alice Roberts for example. Who, but the coldest of stones, could be uninspired by her? I recon she could teach me the differences between my adenoids and my aorta any-day.

Back to my “man in the hat”. What is he doing with bodies? Moreover, is it only me that simply doesn’t get it?

Actually, it seemingly isn’t only me and I am going to (try to) post a link or at least a site for you to cut & paste. Sorry - I am incapable, it's the best I can do!!!

If you are just about to have dinner, or are a bit on the ‘squeamy’ side – you could take my word for it, but watch it if you want plus all the other 'Body Worlds' stuff and make up your own minds.

When the ‘Body Worlds’ exhibition hit Brick Lane, I (along with many others) went to see it. I got in for a bargain price by showing my British Institute of Embalmers’ membership card.

As I made my way around the exhibition I became profoundly uneasy – not just because the exhibits were bodies – heavens, I’ve seen thousands of dead people, up close and very personally. I’ve been in anatomy labs in medical schools – scalpel in hand even; I have read text books galore and looked, for hours, at anatomical specimens in jars at places like The Hunterian Museum. Besides which, in the course of my work, I have held the very hearts of several people I once knew.

All that aside, nothing prepared me for ‘Body Worlds’. Something disturbed me so much, that I had to go to the V&A afterwards to see real art and to recover my composure.


I have thought about it a lot since then and have even explored the subject through the analytical sieve that is the undergraduate essay, but I still have questions and grave misgivings.

I could just about accept that people want to donate themselves as ‘exhibits’. But my gut tells me that what is actually being presented is akin to some kind of freak show – one that presents human tissue without any genuine reference to it’s humanity, even though the figures are posed ‘in artistic animation’. The glassiness of the plastic eyes gives nothing away and the preposterous nature of the exploded movements or exposed internal landscapes, seemed not to instruct many of the masses, simply titillate.

I say this as a reaction to what I heard and saw. I spent a lot of time at the exhibition listening to the comments of fellow voyeurs. It was an uncomfortable journey in which I witnessed many misunderstandings about the anatomical facts on display (many people were seemingly not able to interpret the labels). In addition to this, I witnessed many uneasy snickers and the inevitable guffaw or two about the nakedness so called ‘art’ in the arrangement.

Fascination was there, but questions were also being asked, by more than me, about where in the world a dead full term pregnant mother with baby in-situ could have come from.

Is there a European country (or a family for that matter) that would/could allow such an event to go un-examined by the Coroner, or equivalent, or un-marked by mourning ritual? In a post-Alder Hey Britain, the exhibition of such an emotive subject seemed to me to be wrong.

Please tell if you know, think, or suspect otherwise.

The visitors’ books that were available for all to sign, showed delight and support. People wanted to donate themselves and were engaged with the project.

I just didn’t get it - not really.

A fabulous technique, plastination may be, in its place - where should this place be?... Anatomy is the coolest subject after all and med students really do need to benefit from the technique.

Although we live in the most extraordinary bodies...(you do, look at yourself - go on); we have the technology to create real plastic model bodies. For centuries, beautiful wax anatomical models have also been on show. Moreover, the internet opens up doors and windows into body and soul alike...go to the Wellcome collection online or offline and see.

But surely, real anatomised bodies, so patently used as art-form, for fame and financial gain smacks of King’s New Clothes to me. Is, I wonder, the man in the hat a Tailor, an artful butcher or simply a very clever salesman?

Or, is it just me being a precious over sensitive death-worker, a grumpy old-woman or even - God's forbid, a wee bit cynical?

Failing that, I may simply be showing my true age...five wasn't it!!!


angie said...

I ended up here as a result of the black box. Interesting post.

jeff@sally said...

I am a block box arrival and found this post interesting. I went to a similar exhibit and was not lining up to donate my body. Just not me. I am a nurse and it was very interesting to see some of the organs in their natural habitat? However I thought the whole thing a little odd.