The Working Stiff

This article appeared in The Boston Herald, who holds the copyright.

Where are the protesters at 'Body Worlds'?

By Darren Garnick/ Working Stiff

Wednesday, August 16, 2006 - Updated: 10:02 AM EST

Boston's human rights activists go ballistic whenever a sneaker

company pays overseas workers only a gazillion times their country's

minimum wage. But when a prestigious city institution is linked to a

Chinese sweatshop that makes corpses into life-size action figures,

there is silence.

Dead silence.

A New York Times reporter recently visited the factory that

processes cadavers for the Museum of Science's new "Body Worlds 2"

exhibit, which debuted two weeks ago and runs through Jan. 7, 2007. In

case you've missed all the gushing local media coverage, the exhibit

showcases plastic-injected human corpses frozen in various athletic

and sedentary poses.

For 24 bucks, museum visitors can look at "original, authentic and

inspiring" dead bodies playing soccer, hunched over a computer screen

or cruising upside down on a skateboard. German scientist Gunther von

Hagens laughably calls his traveling sideshow an effort to

"democratize anatomy." No longer will medical students be the only

ones to see real cadavers, he claims, ignoring the fact that medical

students don't pose their bodies like Barbies.

Von Hagens' factory in Dalian, China's third largest port,

reportedly employs 260 medical school grads to work the "Body Worlds"

assembly line. Factory workers get $200-$400 a month to peel skin,

scrape fat off muscle and replace bodily fluids with soft plastic.

Based on a presumed 40-hour work week, that comes to $1.25 to $2.50 an

hour for what has to be the grossest job in the Eastern Hemisphere.

Oh yeah, one more thing. The Times raises the question of whether

Von Hagens' former factory manager may have used "unclaimed bodies"

from the morgue when he first set up shop in 1999. Hey, there's a

billion Chinese. Who's gonna notice if a few missing political

prisoners are stripped down to their vital organs, injected with

plastic and posed in ballet slippers?

Hey you, Ms. Davis Square Hippie Chick with the "Bread Not Bombs"

pin on your backpack and the Che Guevara earrings. Why aren't you

protesting the Body Worlds sweatshop factory in Dalian?

You know what the difference is between the Body Worlds people and

the dead butterflies pinned under glass in the Museum of Science


The butterflies still have their dignity.

The proud inventor of the "plastination" process, von Hagens is

essentially a 21st century Dr. Frankenstein with a gift shop.

At the Body Worlds souvenir stand outside the exhibit, museum

patrons can bring home their favorite dead bodies on a set of

refrigerator magnets ($12.95), commemorative T-shirts ($25),

plastination keychains ($3.95), microwave-safe coffee mugs ($12.95)

and even jigsaw puzzles ($9.95). Fun for the whole family!

The infamous Alcor cryonics lab in Arizona seems almost classy by

comparison. At least you don't see them selling snowglobes with

floating Ted Williams heads.

Hey you, Mr. Surly Harvard Square Coffee Shop Guy with the "Rage

Against the Machine" T-shirt. Why aren't you protesting the Body

Worlds sweatshop factory in Dalian?

Each one of the human sculptures obviously has a name and a life

story. But we're not told if the face helplessly staring at us was

once a shipbuilder in Gdansk, a dissident college professor in

Shanghai or a little old lady from Pasadena. Dr. Angelina Whalley, the

exhibit's designer and von Hagens' wife, recently told the Herald why.

"We feel (that) would distract visitors," she explained. "When you

put information like 'This was Mr. So-and-So, he was this age, he died

of this disease,' people tend to feel sorry."

The last thing Dr. Whalley and her unsentimental hubby want is for

people to waste their time with silly emotional, moral issues.

Hey you, Mr. Newton City Alderman with the "Save Darfur" sticker

on your Volvo SUV.Why aren't you protesting the Body Worlds sweatshop

factory in Dalian?

According to the mad scientist's PR people, all of the bodies on

display in Boston signed consent forms when they allegedly had

functioning brains. Now, you can join them. Body donation forms are

available online and at the Museum of Science. After your funeral, you

too, could be enjoying a free trip to China.

No promises on what you might be doing later. Maybe you'll spend

eternity lifting barbells or maybe you'll be forever strapping on pink

toe shoes.

Any volunteers?

Darren Garnick's "Working Stiff" column runs every Wednesday in

the Boston Herald. Stories or rants about the workplace are welcomed


Here is my response to the article on the right as published in The Boston Herald. The full text of the letter is here.

Somebody’s protesting

By Aaron Ginsburg/ Letters

Friday, August 25, 2006

Actually, there have been protests in front of the Museum of Science by me, and on one occasion someone actually joined me (“Where are the protesters at Body Worlds?” Aug. 16).

Many of those who are uncomfortable with the exhibit vote with their feet by not going. There is also the enormous propaganda machine that the museum and creator of the exhibit have spun to avoid dealing with the issues. The failure to admit that there is an issue of human dignity here strikes me as: See no evil, hear no evil.

The use of bodies may be fascinating, but is hardly necessary to make an educational point. Thus they are being used to attract attention and to bring in crowds. There are effective ways to educate without using real objects - museums, textbooks and audio-visual media do this well, as do newspapers. This museum’s claim to the contrary makes me wonder if its management is in the wrong business.

This exhibit deprives the deceased of their humanity. The propaganda in the exhibit that tries to convince one that it the latest and greatest technique is abhorrent, and it is baloney.

Aaron Ginsburg, Sharon