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Friday, May 30, 2008

Body Slam

posted by on May 30 at 11:28 AM


Remember all those flayed Chinese corpses that came to Seattle two years ago?

Remember how people wondered where, exactly, those corpses came from?

Well, New York attorney general Andrew Cuomo has just announced that Premier Exhibitions can’t prove, to his satisfaction, that they aren’t “the remains of individuals that may have been tortured and executed in China.”

So he’s shutting them down until they can prove the provenance of their corpses.

Cuomo said his office had reached a settlement with Premier that he said will “bring an end to Premier’s practice of using bodies of undocumented origins in their exhibitions.”

Some members of Congress also take exception to the Bodies exhibition. From the NYT:

This month, 21 members of Congress, led by Representative Todd Akin, Republican of Missouri, signed on to a bill that would ban the importation of plastinated human remains.

Bonus: “Cuomo also said ‘all prior visitors’ to Premier’s body exhibition in New York City are eligible for a full refund of the price of their ticket.”


In reality, it seems unlikely that the Bodies bodies came from murdered members of Falun Gong. A totalitarian state that practices political assassination would do anything with its victims (burn them, bury them, sink them) before handing them over to doctors from other countries for examination and display.

But ethics is ethics, and the burden of proof lies with the shysters (I mean, educators) over at Premiere Exhibitions—who, according to Cuomo, have made a fortune off of Bodies at the South Street Seaport.

Bodies Seattle was presented, oddly, by the nonprofit Seattle Theatre Group. To reminisce over a conversation recounted in this edition of Theater News two years ago:

Josh LaBelle, executive director of STG (which runs the Paramount and Moore Theatres and, until now, has dedicated itself to performing arts), noted that Bodies is educational and that STG’s mission has an “education” component.

I noted that STG’s mission actually has an “arts education” component. “Well, that’s true,” LaBelle said. Seattle Theatre Group normally presents Broadway musicals, dance companies, and bands, but, LaBelle continued, “this is us exploring a new direction. What becomes art and what becomes art education?”

That’s a big question, but the answer probably isn’t an anatomical exhibition.

RSS icon Comments


For the life of me I can't understand why this show is interesting to people. To each his or her own, I guess.

Posted by Balt-O-Matt | May 30, 2008 11:38 AM

I work in health care, and while I would have found this exhibit fascinating, I refused to go. I have studied cadavers and learned much from them, but the difference: These people knew and *consented* to having their bodies studied.
Whether prisoners or civilians, I doubt that when the "Bodies" persons were alive, they were asked, "Are you willing to have your body splayed and plasticized, and taken around the world for thousands to see?"

Posted by Madashell | May 30, 2008 11:40 AM

I stand with Amnesty International on this issue.

While a fascinating subject, it's an exhibit I intentionally skipped.

Posted by Will in Seattle | May 30, 2008 11:43 AM

I saw it and thought it was amazing. I can, however, understand the controversy and one's reasons for not going. I'd absolutely go again, though, especially if the one with the horse came here.

Posted by Linsey | May 30, 2008 11:47 AM

I'm going to go against the grain here and say whatever happened to 'innocent until proven guilty'? Why should the burden of proof fall on the defence, when the accusers have no evidence?

Posted by boyd main | May 30, 2008 11:55 AM

I've been to one of these exhibits and it was both fascinating and beautiful. I don't have a hard time believing at all that people would give learned consent to participate after their deaths. If they did use bodies without that consent, that's a serious issue and it needs to be dealt with. But I don't think they'd have much of a problem finding a lot of people who were willing to donate their corpses, especially now that more people have seen the exhibits for themselves -- I'd do it in a heartbeat, and I'm sure I'm not the only one.

Posted by Jane | May 30, 2008 12:06 PM

I support their decision to shut this thing down. Good for them.

I also think China's religious intolerance is unacceptable - THAT SAID (isn't that what you say when you're about to say something fucked up?)...

...I hope this doesn't bolster the Falun Gong's agenda here in the US. It's the fucking Scientology of Buddhism. It's led by a homophobic kook, and is one of the bigger amnesty application scams happening right now.

Posted by Dougsf | May 30, 2008 12:25 PM

Oh wait, I was wrong -- I saw the "Body Worlds" exhibit, not the "Bodies" one. Is that by a different group?

Posted by Jane | May 30, 2008 12:30 PM

Jane - Yeah, that was the original German one that still tours I believe.

Posted by Dougsf | May 30, 2008 12:44 PM

I was really happy when that fucking exhibition left town so I didn't have to look at those pictures anymore. Thanks for posting them here. Ugh. I think I'd be less grossed out by a regular, old-fashioned cadaver.

Posted by keshmeshi | May 30, 2008 12:48 PM

@ 5 - This isn't in criminal court, at least, yet. What is troubling is that the exhibitors lack any documentation to show there was any past informed consent from the exhibit subjects. Just the reassurances of the Chinese government - Oh, and they are soooo trustworthy, aren't they?

Posted by Madashell | May 30, 2008 12:59 PM


Posted by supersmeller | May 30, 2008 1:11 PM

I loved the exhibit, thought it was absolutely fascinating.

Who cares where the bodies came from, they're dead already!

Posted by Gunmoontree | May 30, 2008 1:29 PM

I saw this exhibit and kept pretty emotionally numb during the gawkthrough. Later though, many of the things I had seen struck me as exploitative. It was "sold" as Science, but turned out to be a classic freakshow. You know, mongoloid fetuses in jars and shit like that. I felt like the classic sucker and would never, ever go again.

Posted by kid icarus | May 30, 2008 1:48 PM

Of the three exhibits presently touring the US, "Gunther von Hagens' Body Worlds" is the only one that claims the bodies have been willed to him for plastination.

I do wonder many people are aware that here in the United States, our scientists and medical schools have been known to use the unclaimed bodies of criminals, homeless and indigent people as cadavers? Or how many people have had their loved ones make the decision to donate their body parts to others, after they'd passed on?

I went to the bodies exhibit, and found it fascinating. I've taken A&P classes, dissected all sorts of lower-life forms, but I walked away from this exhibit humbled, and with a completely new respect and appreciation for the miracle that is the human body!

Posted by schnoodle | May 30, 2008 2:38 PM

I caught Bodies when some out-of-town friends were visiting; I wouldn't have gone otherwise. As a biology/anatomy exhibit it was frankly pretty lame. The descriptive blurbs seemed like an afterthought and really didn't convey a lot of information. You'd learn more spending five minutes with a textbook than you would spending all day at the exhibit. Unless we're talking about high-school or younger children, the fact that people are holding this up as some profound educational experience makes me sad for how pig ignorant people are about biology.

And as art it was still pretty lame. Each of the exhibits was a little beat up if you looked closely enough. This might have been somewhat the result of being boxed up and shipped for however many iterations, but in some cases it looked to be inexpert fixation and/or dissection.

Posted by Bison | May 30, 2008 3:30 PM

@7 I believe this is a most important exhibit that can help educate the western world's single most ignorant population. WE MUST learn about the workings of our bodies if we are to make informed decisions about our food choices, our excersise choices, and most importantly, our health care choices. The right wing hates this exhibit because it doesn't want people educated about the body. And as far as religious freedom in China, I think they have the right idea. Religion in this country is crushing scientific inquiry and freedom. They can and should control it. We need to stop our holier than thou bullshit.

Posted by Vince | May 30, 2008 3:37 PM

Dead people don't care who see their bodies. If any of these people met their end by dubious means then the education of millions of people in just how complex and fragile we are should be a small but important consolation, if a singular one.

Posted by JimmyJimmy | May 30, 2008 4:03 PM

Thank fucking G-d, and it is about time. I did not see the exhibit bc I had no confidence that these people had not been killed.

Posted by Papayas | May 30, 2008 5:10 PM

You know, you can't even bring taxidermy into this country without a shit ton of paperwork. The burden of proof always rest on you when there's significant reason for concern.

Posted by Dougsf | May 30, 2008 5:54 PM

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