Monday, September 20, 2004

Oh, the Humanity!

As I heard about five times yesterday, “I see dead people.”

More accurately, “I’ve seen dead people.” Tanya and I, plus a couple of friends, Kevin and Leesa, took a trip to see the Body Worlds exhibit at the California ScienCenter last night.

If you’re not familiar with this exhibit, go here. Of you’re too lazy to go here, I’ll fill you in. This guy named Gunther von Hagen was sitting around one day when he got a brilliant idea. To take dead people and turn them into plastic. Thus was born the Body Worlds experience.

All of the “plastinates” (as they like to call them, I suppose because it’s a whole lot less creepy than calling them Joe, Bob or Elaine) were the remains of actual human beings. Through a fairly simple procedure called “plastination”, they remove all of the bodies’ water and fat and replace it with fluid plastic.

Listen to me, “simple procedure.” Simple sounding procedure anyway. But simple or complicated, the result is fascinating and, remarkably, not very off-putting.

It’s a truly unique experience. But, like I said, not near as eerie as I had hoped. I thought that posable dead people would sincerely creep me to the core. They didn’t. Which is probably the reason why the exhibit is touted as a learning experience and not a Halloween house of horrors.

I tried in vain to make it creepier for myself. I wanted to be in the company of dead guys and to have my shallow world rocked by the claustrophobic feeling of mortality. It wasn’t.

That’s not to say that the exhibit wasn’t very interesting. They do all kinds of weird things with the plastinates; make them pose like super-heroes, recline seductively (no thanks m’am, besides, you’re pregnant!), hold their own brains and skin and play games like soccer, basketball and chess. They cut them in half, they cut them in thirds, they cut them open…

Again, not that creepy. But it’s all context. When you’re staring at a woman’s innards in the company of hundreds of other people with little cell phone looking things to their ears and reading little plaques that explain each one, how could it be that scary? Besides, they look like plastic models, not real human beings. But you find that same plastic lady with her innards showing in your closet in the middle of the night as you’re reaching for a robe…things get a whole lot scarier.

One thing that should have been scary was the fact that most of the plastinates had black lungs from years of smoking. Since they don’t tell you about how these good people died, you can’t be sure if it’s the smoking that did it.

I’m a smoker. Tanya kept nudging me, “you see that? That’s what your lungs look like! You should quit before you become a plastic statue with a soccer ball”

Okay, she didn’t say that last part, but there was one plastinate posed to look like he was guarding a soccer goal. He was diving to stop the ball that could’ve only been kicked by this guy riding a dead horse. Anyway, his lungs were pitch black. I was taken out of the scene there for a moment. I understand that the poses that the people are put in have nothing to do with what they did in “real” life, but a goalie with black lung?

Kevin reminded me that all of the donated bodies were from Europe. I guess it’s possible. They like to smoke over there. Or maybe he played for his local coal mining union?

I digress; the point is that all of the black lungs are a little disturbing. I heard a lot of other people telling their significant others the same thing. But here’s the thing. Smoking is an irrational and idiotic habit practiced by irrational and idiotic people. What makes anyone think that a little black lung is going to cause me to do anything but crave a cigarette?

Which it did.

I’m pretty stupid. After all, I smoke.

Besides, the plaque said that the black lungs were caused by as little as 20 cigarettes a day. I’m a lame ass smoker. I only smoke about 10 a day.

Okay, fine, it’s still dumb. Look, are we here to get on my case about my mild nicotine addiction or talk about dead people?!

That’s what I thought.

As I said, they don’t give any information about the people in the exhibit. They say that they don’t want the exhibit to be about who the people were in life, or the personal tragedies of their deaths. But for one, I would like to know something about them. Not their names or where they lived, but did they actually like to play basketball or did they really hold their skin in their hands in life?

There were a lot of doctors in attendance. That’s how you can tell that it’s an important exhibit. What else would you expect from the ScienCenter, a place so on top of things that they scientifically discovered a way to compress their name, doing away with 2 letters and that wasteful space between words?!

But with the doctors also came the dumb-asses (ironically, some of the doctors were the dumb-asses). Kids mostly though. Stupid kids. I can’t get away from them, no matter how many I kill and bury in the basement.

I’ll forever have the word “plastinate” stuck in my head. “Hey, could you please not touch the plastinate?!” “Sir, don’t handle the plastinate!” “Kids, could you step away from the plastinate?!”

There was one troubled kid in particular. Older. Teenager. You can already tell he’d be trouble. He thought that the exhibit was “lame.” He also felt that if he licked the display cases, it might become more enjoyable. Stupid kid. Others of us have to lick that case too, you know!

He also thought that it would be fun to gross out his siblings by pointing out that plastinated human muscle and sinew look surprisingly like beef jerky. And, of course, he had to make fun of the plastinate’s genitals.

Jealous? Probably. Even I was a little. But all this came from a fat kid with a piercing through his lower lip.

With his appetite ruined for jerky and that thing in his lip slowing him down, maybe the experience will help him drop a few pounds? I hate teenagers. If you’re going to make fun of dead people, at least be clever. Don’t just point and giggle.

And why can’t people read the information at the beginning of the exhibit?! The info that tells you that the people in the exhibit donated their bodies specifically for the exhibit. It’s not a surprise. And yes, to answer your other dumb question, the family was also notified. They have to be.

“Hey, you know who would really like this exhibit? Phil. I wish he could be here with us…oh.”

Fun Fact: We could have picked a more inconvenient time to go to the ScienCenter, but I don’t know how. See, the Emmys were going on right next door and all of the streets were blocked off.

Now I have yet another reason to hate the Emmys. Yeah!

But we did see Jay Mohr walk by on his way to the shuttle.

Come on Jay, you’ve got a show nominated for an award! Couldn’t you get a limo? See you tomorrow, Jay.

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