Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Bodies Exhibit Calls for Another "Quiet" Boycott

Any boycott can backfire.  Look at the boycott of "The Passion of the Christ," which is probably one of the reasons this graphic portrayal of Jesus' last days ultimately grossed over $370 million. That's why it makes sense not to proclaim an all-out boycott of the "Bodies" exhibit which opened this week here in Seattle -- sometimes the most eloquent opposition comes from just not showing up. A quiet boycott is in order. 
The exhibit consists of 21 "whole" human bodies and 240 body parts -- taxidermically preserved and then cut away to reveal anatomical details. There's no doubt the exhibit is crudely engaging.  The human body is amazing, and a view of its inner secrets is usually reserved for people in the medical profession.

The problem with the exhibit is the provenance of the bodies themselves.  First, this is not the famous Dr. Gunther Von Hagens exhibit, in which individuals have specifically donated their bodies for exhibition. That exhibit, which has also traveled the world, actually has a waiting list of hundreds of people who have volunteered their bodies to Von Hagens.


No, this is a competing exhibit, in which bodies from Chinese prisons are leased to exhibitors.  According to press reports, the bodies originate in Chinese prisons, are sold to a university in China, then are leased for approximately $5 million per year to exhibit organizers. The expenses are easily paid for by the $13 million in revenue from the traveling exhibit.  Organizers insist they have documentation on each body that shows there were no shenanigans in its origins, but they refuse to make these records public.  This stubborn refusal continues, in spite of the well-documented illicit Chinese trade in cadavers, body parts and spare organs -- all "donated" by residents of Chinese prisons.


So here are the questions responsible people should ask: "Why were these people in jail in the first place - were they political prisoners?" "How did they die?" "Were their deaths related to the potential bonanza of profits reaped by the Chinese authorities who sold them?" "Why aren't the records of these deaths open for public review?" "Is it appropriate to put on display the bodies of people who had no say in how their flesh is being treated after their death?"


And there are deeper questions, too, questions that apply to any exhibit, no matter the origin of the cadavers used: "Don't our ancient traditions call for deep respect to a person's physical remains?" "Is it right to make a profit out of our fascination with death?" "Is this exhibit another example of a 'Culture of Death' that is fascinated by death and pays little attention to nurturing life?"


I'd hate for these concerns to result in additional attention and revenue for the exhibit's organizers, but I'd also like to see its sloppy and questionable ethics go quietly away.  So won't you join me in a "quiet" boycott?


At 11:05 AM, Anonymous Maryanne said...

More effective than a boycott, why not contact the city council and ask for an ordinance such as that passed by San Francisco, making it illegal to display bodies that have not given explicit, individual consent? That's what some people are already doing. Add your voices to theirs!

At 8:41 PM, Blogger juniper68 said...

thanks for this information - I've been disgusted by the ads for this exhibit, but did not know the history. Now I'm even more disturbed!

PS: Thanks for your previous article also about Mark Driscoll. I think progressive Christians need to be more pro-active about speaking directly about the dangers of his anti-woman theology. I appreciate you starting here.

At 5:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, whether or not you decide to attend The Bodies exhibit, I can guarantee a spiritually moving, authentic, MIND-BOGGLING Christmas experience: Go to see "It's A Wonderful Life: The Musical" at tne Northshore Performing Arts Center. Put on by the stellar Attic Theatre (go to theattictheatre.org for ticket information), this is top-shelf theater at a fraction of the typical cost. You can take the whole family for what one seat would cost downtown. If you want to be blown away by what Christmas is really all about, go see the magic that is this show! The entire family will DEFINITELY love and benefit from this entertaining, important production. Bring your tissues (for joyful tears)!


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