But the dead only quickly decay.
Tuesday night, I went to the Body Worlds exhibit at the California ScienCenter (and I am not a fan of this brand of nomenclature when it comes to academic things, believe me, but there is a big jet aeroplane outside, and that's pretty cool), and I suppose there are a few things to say about it. Namely, if you want to see a lot of penises, many with no skin on them or only portrayed as their bright red bloodflow, go. It's a penis bonanza. Testes, too. Lots of 'em.
If you don't know about this exhibit, it was a source of great hubbub a couple of years ago when it was shown in England. Actual cadavers have been subjected to a process called plastination, and you can look at all the parts up close and personal-like. Apparently, the exhibit with the pregnant woman, reclining on her side, with her uterus flayed open and the fetus curled up inside was such a source of consternation that people threw their coats over it to protect her dignity.
I understand that reaction, I guess. Even though all the subjects in the exhibit agreed to donate their bodies to this specific project and everything is on the up and up. There are times when the cadavers are presented so, well, ARTISTICALLY that you might start seeing the human body as a medium. And maybe there's a slippery slope in there somewhere, I don't know. Crackheads selling unconscious prostitutes to artists for a score. I don't know.
I don't know what these people did in real life, but some of them have been cast in roles: "The Teacher," "The Runner," "The Chess Player," "The Swimmer," "The Goalkeeper." And they are shown in quaint little dioramas, mid-activity, props in hand, or in some cases prop in one hand, lower digestive tract in the other. I do wonder whether there would have been a tussle about it. "I agree to let you carve me up and show my denuded nervous system to the world, but PLEASE let me be The Swimmer and not The Dustman." I also kept expecting the informative captions to give me the name of the subject and the circumstances of his or her death. Thankfully, no such information was offered. Especially because people like my sister took such special note of who did and didn't have an impressive package. How humiliating. She also tittered at the anuses, but you can't really blame her, can you?
There is a guy, I think they call him "The Winged Man," with all of his insides open and displayed. For some reason, there is a fedora on his head, à la Michael Jackson's Moonwalker. I hope it was a prank. I can't imagine this is an important part of what he has to say. "Annie, are you okay?" "Yeah, but there's this guy at the door with no skin and all his insides on the outside. Do you owe him money?"
There is also one guy who is standing and holding a completely intact "suit" of his skin in his right hand. It's phenomenal. You can see the pores and the small hairs on his shoulders and the scuffed bottoms of his feet. The works. Terribly impressive. Fascinating.
And in truth, the show really is interesting and educational, but it has a slight air of sideshow, as well. It reminds you where the duodenum is and shows you what smoker's lungs look like and brain hemorrhages and Alzheimer's Disease and all that other important stuff, but it also lets you look right down a dead guy's gullet. And some of the figures -- the ones with eyes -- look like they're staring you down. And that's just freaky.
I have to say, I kept looking at the parts and the bodies and the faces (well, what you could see of them) and feeling so sad for these people. I would look at a woman standing with her internal organs displayed, her skin mostly gone, a smattering of oddly colorless pubic hair atop her nethers, and I would think, "Someone used to make love to her." That's me. Always romanticizing and always morbidly. Sometimes I feel like a reincarnation of Edna St. Vincent-Millay. What a copycat I am.
The developmental birth section of the exhibit with all its many-sized fetuses was also sort of sad to me. Those poor guys never had a chance.
I just look at all of this -- this corporeal inventory -- and I realize that that's all I am -- all we are. And one day, it won't matter what I did or didn't have for breakfast. Whether my handbag was a knock-off. Whether I ever finished reading Ulysses. Whether I can still speak French. I'll just be a decaying mass of tissue, no longer loved or remembered or necessary. And just seeing those words written out reminds me how egocentric that sort of thinking is. Of course I won't be remembered. Who cares about me. I'm not so explosively important. I'm just a girl. And I know a certain number of people. And I owe some money on my credit cards, and I don't get my oil changes as often as I should. And I look in the mirror and think I'm awesome and awful by turns. And I never know which it's going to be, so every hour is like a yank on the slot machine. Come on, cherries.