Sexquisite Corpses: The shock-and-awe capitalism of BODIES the Exhibition

McGill Daily

If there is anything sexier than a naked human body, it’s clearly the skinned and chemically-preserved human body. At least according to disturbingly exploitative displays such as BODIES the Exhibition, currently being held at the Eaton Centre. BODIES offers med-school failures the opportunity to explore “the amazing and complex machine we call the human body” using “actual human specimens” (apparently of the Chinese prisoner persuasion), allowing “access to sights and knowledge normally reserved…for medical professionals.”

While I have not had the chance to visit the exhibition itself, I have heard some interesting remarks regarding the morbidly alluring smell that fills the exhibit, the predominant representation of a particular ethnic group, and the general awe inspired by the sheer complexity and muscular synchronization of the human body. While the exhibit certainly seems as though it would be worth a portion of my pay cheque, I find myself hesitating.

There is only one reason why the BODIES exhibit is as popular as it is and has received the sort of attention and acclaim that it has: the use of “actual human specimens.” As a friend recently, and heatedly, mentioned, we have the scientific ability to perfectly recreate the human body from within; we have the ability to even create the required tissue – so why use cadavers, formerly referred to as human beings, as educational models on display to teach the non-medical world?

Because sex sells.

BODIES sexes up science. It adds to the growing sexual commodification and morbidity to which we are becoming increasingly desensitized. We are constantly looking for a selling “schtick” for our products. Shock-and-awe – albeit the name of a military strategy – is perhaps the best way to characterize this so-called “century of the self,” in which to garner attention for and to sell a commodity means constantly pushing the bounds of the shocking. The human body itself has become a huge marketing point, used to get people to purchase products and services in varying ways and to various degrees – thereby promoting the sexualization of capitalism, beyond sex itself.

See also: Lady Gaga.

Now, I’m not trying to promote any sort of moral Puritanism, but there is something sincerely and deeply unsettling about the concept behind BODIES. For a few dollars, you can see once-living human beings skinned, preserved, and arranged in positions highlighting our own bodies’ intricacies. Just as I stand outside the looking glass, if I were once the unfortunate inmate of a Chinese prison, I could very easily be standing on the other side – frozen in formaldehyde.

What is ironic is that the very same field – medical science – which claims deep respect, understanding, and love for the human body has completely dehumanized it and made it into something worth consuming without the added bonus of being referred to as an establishment of “pimps.”

What does this exhibit – and displays like it – say about our priorities and values as a society? What does it say about us as a people when we use a military strategy to sell products, especially those that are a source of entertainment, using the human body and its various functions? We’re approaching a threshold that will force us to ask: what else is left to sell for entertainment value? And I’m unsure if I want to be around when the answer to that question is known.

No apologies for any self-righteousness that may have been displayed in this column.

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