Necropolis Revisited

Kandied Kadavers


When you have had the television off for awhile, it is not a good idea to start watching it again all at once. I made that mistake last week, hoping to get caught up on the national debate over whether it ought to be ok for Americans to torture people. (For the record, I'm one of a scant majority - 60% - who oppose it.) Right away I found myself in the middle of a feature report about an exhibition of Chinese corpses, titled The Human Body, which had opened in New York.

The bodies, flayed to reveal muscle and bone structures, have been treated with some kind of polymer to arrest decomposition and objectionable effluvia, but otherwise appear more or less as they would in any anatomy lab, i.e. hideous. The word "taxidermy" fails to do justice to the imaginative way in which these deceased have been displayed. Some are positioned in action poses, as if they were playing tennis or baseball. Some are salami sliced into exploded cross sections. One guy is frozen into a dance pose holding hands with a symmetrical partner which is (how did they do it?) his own skeleton! The skinless heads, clearly oriental and redolent of Frank Miller's comic book zombies, are fitted with glass eyes, as if a touch of the macabre were really needed at that point.

The foregoing examples are all I can give you, having found it necessary to yank the power cord to avoid throwing up. It appeared that the show was quite extensive and was being visited by a group of schoolchildren at the time of the filming. Because they were still adapting their ideas of normalcy to the situation on the ground, the children took it in stride, and simply revised their mores to include the concept that a playful attitude toward human remains is, after all, okay. Being of the outmoded opinion that dead bodies belong under the ground or tucked away in urns, I was only able to watch about a half minute of this disturbing event before realizing that Good Morning America was treating us to another helping of the kind of morbid shit our culture of death has been spooning up for us since we crawled out of the trees, as our condition deteriorates toward shrunken head collections and Hannibal Lector brain recipes.

Unwilling to offend our delicate sensibilities with scenes of the real horror and death we inflict on hapless Iraqi PUCs, the media can nevertheless be relied upon to pander to our darkest appetites. We prefer the option to say of our necrophilous fiction that it isn't actually real, and of our necrophilous reality that we are unaware of it.

The cadaver show is touted as an educational exhibit, not, as first comes to mind, a demonstration of what happens to Chinese freedom and democracy students. It is rolled out for our approval as a celebration of nature's most wondrous machine and what can be done with it given some creativity and a blithe faith that if everybody has the same mental illness we must not be officially crazy. If China's scientific community can find in human flesh the raw materials for this kind of thing, imagine the possibilities for Chinese pastry chefs, makers of Chinese marionettes, home furnishings, party favors, patio tchotchkas and chew toys. We'll be hearing more from these guys. China produces more dead bodies than anyplace else on earth.

Which, by the way, prompted the only ethical question Katie Courik thought to raise. Where did they get the bodies? We have heard rumors, after all, that Chinese prisons are the place to go for bargain basement livers and kidneys and hearts and lungs. That some poor sonofabitch who is about to get disemboweled anyway would be glad to know his body parts are not going to waste is only a notch less ghoulish than asking him to be laminated and longitudinally bisected to show science class kids how turds are made.

Spectacular fall sunshine is flooding in through my south windows. Guess I'll go for a walk.