My girlfriend didn’t mind the idea of me resting in peace in the Museum of Science.
“Oh! You’d be nice plastinated!” she exclaimed, delighted. “They’d flay you into lovely butterfly fan pieces!”
And so they will. I’ve got a letter here for Gunther von Hagens, and it says he can have my stuff when I’m done with it.
I first saw Body Worlds last year, at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. I had expected it to be good. It was beyond good; it was stunning. My friends and I stayed for hours, gawping dumbly at entire stripped-down corpses dribbling basketballs, carrying their own skins and brains and organs, posed mid-stride with their muscles exploding away from their skeletons.
Plastination had made old men and women look like the flower of the youth of Athens, their advanced age showing only in their yellowing fingernails. Their dissected bodies were beautiful disasters, their peeled faces noble and ridiculous. They were as surprising as a barn full of unicorns.
Now Body Worlds 2 has hit Boston, and I’ve been giddy with anticipation over it for weeks. The Museum of Science has sent me a fat press packet full of lurid photos, which our music editor begged me not to wave around in his face while he’s eating lunch.
He didn’t get much sympathy from me. I’ve seen my own guts, thanks to the twin miracles of laparoscopic surgery and the VHS machine, and I can’t get enough of looking at other people’s. Lovely things, bodies, packed full of tiny wet machines. Why should maggots get them all? Why not leave a few for the rest of us to marvel at?
Wondering how my own family would feel about me getting flayed and, um, “forcibly impregnated” with silicone, I wrote to my mother, a Unitarian minister, who has been reminding me that she wants to be cremated practically since I could talk. “What you do with your body has been in your corner for a LONG time!” she wrote back cheerily.
Von Hagens himself is a body donor. So is his wife, Institute for Plastination director Angelina Whalley, along with a good many of Body Worlds’ employees. A few years ago, he personally plastinated his best friend. When von Hagens shuffles off his mortal coil, Whalley—some years his junior—says she’ll plastinate him. (After a decent period of mourning, of course.)
Their enthusiasm for the project is charming, and contagious. Still, there’s a faint foul odor hanging over the whole business. Museum-appointed ethics committees have found the exhibit squeaky-clean, and von Hagens won a legal battle against the German newspaper Der Spiegel for insinuating that he had accepted the bodies of executed Chinese prisoners. But ugly speculations swarm around the “Father of Plastination“ wherever he goes: Gunther von Hagens carrying on the dirty work of his father, the SS man. Gunther von Hagens turning a blind eye to bodies of uncertain provenance. Gunther von Hagens, Disrespecter of Meat.
If it ever comes out that the plastinators really are grave-robbing bastards, after the fine old tradition of anatomists, the wonder will be that they made something so beautiful and respectful out of such unsavory raw material.
I’ll take my chances. I’ve gone through the checklist: Yes, I authorize you to consult my medical records. Yes, I am also an organ donor. Yes, I agree that my body can be used for an anatomical work of art.
Odds are, in my new life as a plastinate, I’d be parceled out into discrete organs, or sliced into cross-sections, rather than plastinated whole. Early on, Body Worlds shied away from showing female specimens, nervous about being labeled pornographers. Now, they are plastinating more women, but as Whalley informed me at the press opening (as tactfully as she could), women tend to die older and leave worse corpses. Thus, most of the central exhibits are male. (Infuriating, that even one’s coffin has a glass ceiling.)
Then again, I might get lucky, die with my body still in decent condition, and get tapped for whole-body plastination. Maybe von Hagens himself will work night after night on me with his scalpel and forceps, perfecting his magnum opus: Woman with Exploded Face Roller-Skating, Pursued by Swarm of Angry Skinless Weasels. I can see it now: I will stand frozen in the center of the museum, inspiring reverence and comedy and pure horror.
Academics will argue pretentiously over whether or not I’m art. Kids will dare each other to touch me and run away giggling. Callow preppies will make sarcastic comments about my sexual attractiveness. Teachers will use me for impromptu anatomy lessons. Disapproving types will check my skull for bullet holes and drench me in sticky torrents of pity.