Column: Going for the gut

A man with a mustache in a leather bomber jacket is leaning on the glass case, making it wiggle. You wouldn’t notice, but one of the human knee joints inside has a protruding tendon, which moves back and forth, as thought is was a soft but constant breeze.

I finally went to Body Worlds 2 at the Museum of Science this weekend, and if you haven’t, I recommend you go immediately. Sure, it doesn’t end until January, but between now and then there’s Thanksgiving break, finals and winter break. So when else are you going to go see some posed and sliced dead bodies?

Just make sure you make reservations. And don’t go on a Friday afternoon, especially a national holiday that all the elementary school children in the state have off. There’s nothing quite so disturbing as watching a six-year-old grab onto a two-inch thick, full-length slice of a human body and start swinging it back and forth until her father drags her away with an exasperated sigh.

Now, I have no problem with parents who take their kids to see Body Worlds. It’s probably healthy for them to become acquainted with the human body early on, and not be scared of guts and death and reproductive organs. But if you can’t keep your progeny from running around touching dead bodies, hey, maybe you shouldn’t have passed the ol’ genes on in the first place. Because I think that’s one of the top 10 rules of parenting: Don’t let your children touch corpses. I don’t care how well-preserved said corpses are. Don’t let Jimmy paw the dead man.

One woman with eyeliner way below her actual eyes picked up her daughter so she could get a better view of a three-month-old fetus inside a uterus. When the girl exclaimed how gross it was, her fingers smearing the glass, her mother agreed.

Ew. Now that, little girl, is gross.

But aside from that, and one of my companions’ comments about pulled pork sandwiches, it was really a beautiful exhibit. I was overwhelmed. Fun fact: only the individual organs are behind glass. The full bodies, posed like baseball players and yogis and split open nine ways to Sunday, are out in the open; you can get as close as you want.

Nerve endings stir in the open air, moved by the collective breath of hundreds of the living who came to see what they look like inside. And they may be injected with plastic, but there’s no escaping that these are real people. Or were, once. That femur might as well be your femur; those biceps, your biceps; that liver – no, that one, with the visible but reversible (thank God) alcohol damage – your liver.

The five-month-old fetus still inside its mother – that was you. No drawings or ultrasound of embryos that I’ve seen come close to reality. You need to see it to understand it, those test tubes that take you from six weeks’ development to eight. I’m not trying to lure you, unsuspecting reader, into a pro-life column. I’m just saying: Fetuses. Holy crap. (Don’t worry if you can’t handle that – they’re in a separate room with plenty of signs beforehand. So if you don’t want to see dead babies, you don’t have to.)

Like the embryos, drawings just don’t capture what we look like inside. We’re jammed with organs and blood vessels and muscles. It’s a mess in there.

Of course, I suppose it looks messier when a person is carved so they look like they’re diving both forward and backward at the same time, with their guts standing straight up in the middle. That one, hands-down, enthralled the crowd more than any body there. More than the man with “drawers” of body parts sliding out of him, more than the woman without the face, more than the slices o’ body. People were putting their faces into the diving woman, pointing out her lungs and heart and ovaries.

I saw people putting their faces in a corpse.

I’d like to reiterate: Holy crap.

Plus, she had a mohawk, and one way cooler than your Hot-Topic-punk roommate’s, because hers was just a strip of scalp with hair on it. With brain underneath.

At this point in the exhibit, even if you can mentally distance yourself from the dead bodies, your own body will react. A visceral, literal gut reaction. Even if your brain is fascinated, your stomach wants out. NOW. We weren’t made to see our own insides.

I don’t know if there’s a point to all this, or if I came out richer for the experience. I did learn a lot about the body. I also learned a lot about the people who inhabit those bodies. Although many are respectful, considerate, curious beings, many are raging douchebags who stand in front of you while you’re contemplating the skinless ski jumper or let their kids run around screaming. Have some respect. These people you’re looking at, they’re dead. Like you’ll be one day, or today, if I throw you off the balcony.

Excuse me. I think dead bodies make me violent.

In conclusion, go see Body Worlds. It’s either an ode to God or to science, and it’s beautiful.

Oh and there’s a giant camel with three heads and, like, five stomachs. Go!

– Rachel Slajda can be reached at [email protected]

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