This post isn’t my normal look into news and journal articles that discuss bioarchaeology or mortuary archaeology, instead I want to discuss a recent article that appeared in The Chronicle- a resource that I usually refer to for academic and professional reasons and not for blogging inspiration. However, The Chronicle does have a number of articles that deal with the topic of death, and most recently published on “A Healthy Mania for the Macabre“. This is an interesting topic, and a lot of us working in death-related disciplines often have to deal with questions regarding our morbid fascination. Academics have had a healthy mania for the dead for the past hundred years. However, it is the broader public that we are considering here, not those of us who have chosen to dedicate ourselves to the macabre.
Another great post from Bones Don’t Lie - read the rest here!
A Healthy Mania for the Macabre
I filled out my consent form to donate my body for plastination, and then carried the form around with me for two weeks. I checked the yes box, “I agree that my plastinated body may be used for the medical enlightenment of laypeople and, to this end, exhibited in a museum.” I will be immortal, I imagined, in Gunther von Hagens’s “Body Worlds”—a skinless anatomical écorchéfor all to see. I hadn’t originally planned an illustrious posthumous career, but von Hagens’s Institute for Plastination played just the right pompous note for me when it printed Immanuel Kant’s enlightenment slogans on its brochure: “What can I know? What should I do? What may I hope for? What is man?”
The brochure assured me that having my dead body frozen and bathed in acetone, and my tissues “impregnated” with silicone, would be a triumph of reason over superstition and put me in a long tradition of principled scientific altruism. The testimonials of other donors sprinkled throughout the brochure echoed one young man’s selfless impulse: “I want to make myself useful, even after death.”
The last step in the bequeathal process was to have a family member sign the donor form. But it was at that point that I began to change my mind. “Body Worlds” (all eight versions) have become the most successful traveling exhibits in the history of science museums. Von Hagens invented his corpse-preservation technique in the 1970s at the University of Heidelberg, and started his museum tours in 1995, subsequently showing his macabre collection to over 32 million people.
In the end, I couldn’t send my donor form because I feared that my family might see my brightly colored, flayed corpse riding a plastinated pony, posed on a tightrope in Las Vegas. Or stretched out to twice my size, juggling bowling pins, riding a unicycle at the Museum of Science and Industry here in Chicago.
Click here for the rest of the article.
Mainly, I just wish I’d never encountered the website Serial Killers Ink, which showcases terrible artworks by the perpetrators of some truly terrible crimes. I don’t like to think about the kind of person who’d pay, say, $175 for a portrait of Jennifer Love Hewitt by Elmer Wayne Henley, who is serving six life sentences for mass murders in Houston in the 70s, or $60 for a cartoon panda by a man with the soubriquet of “the internet’s first serial killer”. It’s all very depressing. But I can’t deny it: I kept clicking. The flicker of fascination was there.
A great article on ‘morbid curiosity’ - check it out now!