Tag Archives: human remains

Who’s the Real Pirate?

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

Death in the Media

In the era of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram it seems as though images are constantly being uploaded, shared, and “liked.”  While most publicly shared photos are flattering selfies or snapshots of kittens and babies, they occasionally showcase a darker subject matter—death.

Two weeks ago a photo went viral. In this photo, the lifeless body of a little Syrian boy, later identified as 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi, is pictured facedown in the sand of a Turkish beach, his small Velcro shoes still strapped to his feet. Aylan and his family had been traveling to Greece in order to flee the civil unrest in Turkey when the boat they were on capsized, killing several passengers including Aylan, his older brother, and their mother.  Their bodies were later found and  the infamous image of Aylan’s was captured by photographer Nilulfer Demir, so to “make his scream heard.”

Water color version of the now famous photo taken of Aylan Kurdi's body. Soruce: https://www.flickr.com/photos/robertsharp59/20635914503

Water color version of the now famous photo taken of Aylan Kurdi’s body. Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/robertsharp

Although it has not been long, several news sites including The Wall Street Journal claim that this image will join a collection of photos, such as ones from the Great Depression and the Vietnam War, thought to have changed history. Both David Cameron and Manuel Valls, Prime Minsters of the United Kingdom and France respectively, have increased efforts to support and provide resources for refugees in response to this photo.  Why is it though, that despite the countless photos of Syrian refugees that have been published, this one has made such an impact? If I had to guess, the answer revolves around death, especially that of a young child.

In an article from NPR, Los Angeles Times editor Kim Murphy admits that she is usually hesitant to publish photographs of corpses but her take on this photo was different.  It is not violent or graphic, but rather heartbreaking in a way that makes people stop and think. I think the photo of Aylan poses a lot of questions about publishing images of death online and in the media.  Is there a benefit to displaying such images or is it insensitive?





Bodies in the Museum

The presentation of art/artifacts in museums involve the art’s value, respect for the artist[s], and accessibility by the public, but how does this change when presenting subjects such as human remains? Everyone handles the subject of death differently which applies to how people handle seeing death as well, especially human remains. How can a museum handle the issue of presenting human remains? One interesting experience I have had for the display of human remains is of the bog bodies in the National Museum of Archaeology in Dublin, Ireland.

My expectations differed greatly than what I saw. I expected to see glass cases throughout the room with the bodies inside. However, there were tall painted cylindrical columns with information about the bodies interspersed throughout the room. These information panels on the outside of the columns told the viewer everything about the body itself, the history and also had a faint sketch of the body. If someone wanted to learn about the bog bodies but did not want to see the bodies themselves, this way of presentation benefited their interests. If one wanted to view the actual body, they had to enter the opening in the column which went down inside of the column to where the body was located.

"Bog Body" by Mark Healey

Bog Body” by markhealey is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Before this visit I had never thought that the presentation of human remains in a museum may disturb some individuals but I think this way of presentation done by the National Museum of Archaeology was very sensitive and thoughtful for all visitors. It allowed those who wanted to see the bodies to see them but also hid the bodies away so those who did not want to see the bodies didn’t have to see them.

This sensitivity to presentation is also apparent in the Michael C. Carlos museum. The mummy that is on display is located in one of the side rooms so if a visitor does not want to see it they do not have to enter this offset room. The sensitivity to the presentation of deceased is an important aspect museums have to face when wanting to display human remains.