Gunther von Hagens

While our company from Amsterdam was visiting, we all went to Vancouver's Science World to see the Body Worlds 3 exhibit. Rocco and I saw Body Worlds 2 at the Toronto Science Centre and were amazed. I was super excited to see that the next show was appearing in Vancouver, so we talked our friends into coming with us (which didn't take much) and went on a weekday, hoping to avoid the crowds we experienced at Body Worlds 2.

Here's the low down: Gunther von Hagens was experimenting with new techniques in embalming when he discovered Plastination. During the process, plastics replace the fat and water in the body, leaving most of the organic material intact but preserved in a plastic matrix. The bodies and organs don't smell or decay, and in the exhibition you can even touch some specimens. I just had to smell them, as Rocco will tell you with great horror, so I leaned into one of the displays and took a big whiff. Nothing.

Body Worlds 2 was a massive exhibit, stretching through many rooms and halls. Many of the displays were highly artistic, the bodies being positioned in strangely non-human poses or partially exposed so that while part of the body looked intact, portions were excavated down to the nerves or the bones to give people a view into the body that we would otherwise never have. Body Worlds 3 was a much less artistically inclined show, tending to emphasise the learning afforded by exposing the human body for scrutiny.

Is the show creepy? Nauseating? I suppose it would be if that's what you told yourself to expect. Instead, to me both shows instill wonder in viewers, asking people to rethink their bodies, their physical relationship with the world inside and around them. Both shows gradually led viewers into the experience by first showing pieces of the body that are perhaps hard to relate to: a length of the spinal column, a femur. Eventually you're shown the whole body, often posed in sports activity like hurdling, tossing a javelin, diving for a soccer ball, or skateboarding as above. The human body is so fascinating and so rarely seen uncovered. Though I can't support the great wealth that these shows have afforded von Hagens, I do think that every person who passes through one of his shows learns more about the body and its capabilities. Both shows stress the consequences of bad behaviour like smoking and obesity, and display the realities of disease.

Abbotsford school district barred their teachers and students from attending the show in any officially sanctioned capacity. The Globe and Mail reports:
Superintendent of schools Des McKay didn't return calls yesterday, but he was quoted by the News as saying that, because the exhibit is "quite graphic," the board wanted parents to decide whether or not their children see Body Worlds 3.
But while watching the news one evening, we learned that the parents who supported their children seeing the exhibit felt let down by the school board. One woman complained that she wanted her children to experience the show but could not afford the tickets to take them herself; student tickets to the expensive show would have been partially subsidised by the school board if field trips were approved.

What do you think? Should parents have been given the choice to send their children to the show by a school field trip? Considering the extensive care Science World took in consultation with child psychiatrists, educational experts, various religious groups, and others, why would the Abbotsford school board refuse their students access to the show? Will you go see it? I definitely encourage you to see the show for yourself and contribute your thoughts on von Hagens' depravity or genius, or anything in between.

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