One of the most controversial attractions to have entered and taken root in Atlanta is the BODIES Exhibition. A science based exhibit, the museum of sorts has numerous real human bodies in various poses on display while other sections analyze specific parts or components of the human body and systems such as the brain. Aside from the arguments surrounding the acquirement of the bodies themselves, many drew conflict with the concept of placing someone’s remains on public display. Those arguments have diminished over the years as the angle of the exhibit is pushed to encourage scientific learning and medical education for all levels. BODIES, however, is certainly not the first (or likely last) tourist attraction that has used the human corpse as a means of revenue.
Looking at an earlier, less ominous example brings us to the amusement park Disneyland. Built in the mid-60s, the popular ride attraction “Pirates of the Caribbean” draws in numbers of park visitors. Sitting in a boat, visitors are taken through a bayou-like environment passing many ‘piratical’ scenes. Use of sculptures, audio effects, and animatronics, all bring the pirates and their rambunctious natures alive for guests. Our society today tries to achieve realism in games, films, and other media forms in order to enrapture the viewer in an experience. This same drive was present back in 1967 when Walt Disney and his team of Imagineers (Disney imagine engineers) created the attraction. After having spent so much time and money on the rest of the attraction in terms of props and wardrobes, the fake skeletons of the time paled in comparison to the rest of the environment’s realism. The inclusion of fake, full skeletons and skull cross and bones throughout the ride did not fit and by general consent, the team agreed to put in real human remains in their place. Taking remains from the UCLA Medical Center’s anatomy department, the Disney Imagineers placed skeletons throughout and profited from the parks’ visitors who essentially entered a highly decorated morgue, likely not knowing of the ‘props’ realism.
Disney claims they have fully removed the real human remains and replaced them with actual props (now more easily crafted to look realistic) but some viewers are still skeptical, leading to investigations of the ride. Analysis has shown a couple of skeletal remains were in fact still present in the ride and there are a few more that are still suspected. It’s surprising that once those pieces were found, they were not instantly removed and returned to their proper countries of origin and laid to rest in a proper burial as the others were. Granted, that claim also leads one to question how the remains were identified to belong to a certain country or family if they were previously donated from the medical center.
Regardless of whether Disney has or has not removed all previously living skeletal remains, it’s still disturbing that one not only took the remains of humans who donated their bodies for science but instead put them in a children’s amusement park propped up to look like discarded pirates. At this point, it also does not matter if the bodies were properly returned because the damage is already done. Disney will continue to profit off of the real human remains and it’s lingering legacy as long as people continue to propagate the idea that there are still real skeletons among the fake in the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction.
BODIES: The Exhibit Atlanta website: http://www.premierexhibitions.com/exhibitions/4/48/bodies-exhibition/bodies-exhibition-atlanta
Link to Disney Article: http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/are-there-still-real-skeletons-in-disneylands-pirates-of-the-caribbean
Discussing death in the United Kingdom was previously considered a taboo topic, despite its inevitability for everyone. Death has always been and will be, an event in which one finds themselves experiencing first hand and/or through friends and family, yet discussing it openly is not socially ‘correct’. This attitude of not addressing the topic both before and after it has occurred is slowly shifting as discussed in the article ‘Anyone for Tea and Sympathy? Death Cafes Embrace Last Taboo’ by Harriet Sherwood. Originating in London, death cafes have begun appearing in various countries to provide a safe space in which one can discuss anything relating to death (pre or post). These cafes are an innovative and well intentioned idea in my opinion as they bring about a topic that most people do not feel comfortable talking to with other people or feel wrong for even bringing up in fear being the harbinger of dark subjects. The ability to be in a safe space to talk to complete strangers (or friends) allows people to explore topics they may not have even thought about, such as after death procedures and preferences. Death cafes are able to bring light and perhaps more lighthearted talk, on morbid issues and help to reduce the stigma and fear that permeates the process of dying. Unlike a wake and more like an AA meeting, people are able to participate at their own leisure and structure their meetups like an open forum.
In addition to death cafes, the topic of death is also being embraced through conventions such as the Ideal Death Show and websites like Final Fling. The convention weekend of ‘celebration’ for death is designed with the intention of allowing people to explore after death options such as customized urns/coffins, types of bereavement, discussion panels and other ways in which to handle death in a healing fashion rather than a silenced mourning. Websites like Final Fling are designed to allow people to set up basic procedures surrounding death and helping with their end-of-life planning. Conventions, end-of-life websites, and death cafes are meant to embrace the losses people may have experienced through death by acknowledging it as well as providing persons with company who share a similar loss. They all three also serve to reclaim one’s individual preferences and conceptions from the professionals who have inadvertently (or intentionally) designed the hushed, coveted treatments of the dead.
It is unclear where this growing acknowledgment of death in everyday lives and public spheres arose but there are a few theories presented in the article. Some believe it derives from the baby boomer generation currently aging and beginning to face their large mortality rate. Others claim the openness is required due to the reduction of religious guidance (influences from the church) and beliefs of afterlife. Another theory is that is has become more socially acceptable to be ‘vulnerable’ in public versus stoic. I agree more with the last theory however, that people are rejecting the “power dynamics of death and dying” and seeking to have more self-determination in societies where we have cleanly organized and dictated how death should be confined and treated. Humans are curious by nature and the idea to challenge common conventions and discuss taboo topics such as death in a previously thought of “happy space” appeals to them.
The article ends with the thoughts that discussing death is not the same as wishing for it- a notion that previously preoccupied minds and is actively being altered through specific measures in order to reduce its taboo status. Additionally, that by addressing death openly, humans are accepting its inevitability, which I think is a step in the right direction in order for healing to take place as well as for people to become more comfortable with end-of-life decisions that are extremely difficult for the survivors to handle without guidance.
Article available here: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/aug/29/death-cafes-embrace-last-taboo