Oh Gunther von Hagens, you are the gift that just keeps on giving and giving and giving to the Death Reference Desk. But this time, dearest Dr. von Hagens, you have truly achieved a pop-cultural milestone. None other than Stephen Colbert, he of The Colbert Report and clearly deserving namesake of a new wing on the International Space Station, dedicated two whole minutes to discussing your plastinated bodies posed in sexual positions.
But it is safe to say, I think, that achieving a two minute commentary from the one and only Stephen Colbert means that you, yes you GUNTHER VON HAGENS, have arrived. Now, the only question is when you will finally jump the shark…but that is a different pop-cultural discussion for another time.
Until then Herr Professor Doktor von Hagens, mull over these wise words from Stephen Colbert himself:
This major breakthrough ends one of science’s enduring mysteries: what does it look like when zombies do it?
(special thanks to my book editor’s assistant for sending me the Colbert link…that’s just how I roll…Thanks Beth!!!)
Death Reference Desk technical guru Meg posted an article on the newest planned exhibition by German anatomist and showman, Gunther von Hagens. This would be Gunther von Hagens of Body Worlds fame. The article discusses von Hagens’ plans to exhibit dead bodies posed in sexual positions.
There is a fascinating backstory to this corpse-a-palooza sex show and it all begins in 2006….
In August of that year, NPR featured a report by Neda Ulaby on Gunther von Hagens. You can listen to that interview by clicking on the link at the top of the page. On the whole, the report is about the Body Worlds phenomena sweeping America during that summer.
Then, as if by MAGIC, intrepid reporter Neda Ulaby drops this dead body bomb:
Recently, [Gunther von Hagens] sent a questionnaire to 6,500 people who he says have agreed to donate their bodies to him after death. They were asked a number of provocative questions. For example, would they consent to their body parts being mixed with an animal’s, to create a mythological creature? Would they agree to be “transformed into an act of love with a woman or a man?” Von Hagens says that on the sex question, the majority of men liked the idea, while the women did not.
Talk about burying the lead…or burying something. Wowza: that double entendre works on a number of levels.
But it is all true. Gunther von Hagens plans on fusing dead animals and dead humans together (because, of course, humans aren’t animals….) to create Mythological Creatures. Or, as one former student once proclaimed: “You mean like centaurs and stuff.” Yes yes. I do mean centaurs and stuff.
But the magic doesn’t stop there. Oh no. Von Hagens was clearly making plans to pose dead bodies in sexual positions by at least 2006 (if not earlier). Well, actually, von Hagens says “…transformed into an act of love…” and when you listen to the NPR report, it’s really creepy sounding.
Thus began my own personal obsession with tracking every new exhibition by von Hagens to see when he would finally, finally show dead bodies having sex. It seemed fairly obvious that von Hagens would create this exhibition since I GUARANTEE that it (meaning dead bodies doing it) will make MORE MONEY than any of von Hagens other shows. And that is saying a lot, since Body Worlds recorded its 28th million visitor in July 2009. The mythological creatures will most certainly appear at some point but only after a small mint is made with the corpse sex.
And so it has all come to pass. On May 7, 2009, Gunther von Hagens opened a new Body Worlds exhibition in Berlin, Germany (the Berlin link is gone so I am using a Zurich, Switzerland link). In one section of the exhibition, entitled Cycle of Life, von Hagens placed two different pairs of bodies having sex on display. In a statement released by von Hagens, he explains that the exhibit “offers a deep understanding of the human body, the biology of reproduction, and the nature of sexuality.”
At least at the end he wished everyone best wishes.
Sadly, the London Body Worlds exhibition closed at the end of August. The last time I checked, von Hagens never did move the dead bodies having sex to the O2 bubble. But rest assured, I will keep track of this situation for one and all.
Plastination inventor and all-around evil-weird genius Gunther von Hagens is at it again — and by “it” I mean pushing the boundaries of most noxious, notorious controversy… and by “pushing” I mean thrusting, by “boundary” I mean vaginas, and by “controversy,” if you haven’t guessed, I mean dead, skinless bodies having sex.
Body Worlds has already sparked fiery condemnation for their display of one cadaver couple in love’s embrace (reverse cowboy style) for its “Cycle of Life” show (see a few photos here… um, probably NSFW? Who knows). The plan is to produce a new show entirely dedicated to sex — not as an inside-out Kama Sutra diorama of death, as cynics might believe, but to depict “anatomy and the function,” says creative director Angelina Whalley (also von Hagens’ wife) in an interview with Reuters.
I wonder, though, how many copulating corpses can be shown before it ceases to be educational and tends toward, you know, pornographic and creepy. DeathRefer John Troyer penned an essay about this very possibility (in terms of illuminating theory, no doubt) for a forthcoming anthology. Drat copyright and its meddlesome restraints! We’ll post a citation when it’s available.
The Body Sex Worlds will presumably make the museum circuit, maybe even in shopping malls like its rival, Bodies: the Exhibition. And perhaps therein lies the motivation — to edge out the competition with more artful effects and outrage. After fourteen years of touring, your traveling corpse road show becomes a one-trick pony show. Hey, now there’s an idea… errr, no no, just kidding. Please.
You may have noticed that I said “vaginas” above with no mention of anal boundaries: Somehow it’s imagined that the scandal compounds when the corpses involved are homosexual — or at least von Hagens is sensitive to this “very delicate subject.”
Oh whatever, Mister. Is he really that concerned about society’s ability to “handle it”? Or are dead men having sex merely being reserved to fill the coffers for the next round? And perhaps his not being gay prevents him from feeling he can depict it properly and respectfully.
Then again, he isn’t dead, either — and that hasn’t stopped him in the least.
It looks like Michael Jackson might get his world tour after all — or at least a perpetual stream of curious fans trotting past his moonwalking corpse. The day following the singer’s sudden death, Gunther von Hagens, the macabre but brilliant mind behind the controversial Body Worlds, announced a months-ago made agreement with the Jackson family to plastinate MJ’s body.
We can’t say we’re surprised — yet we can’t yet put a finger on what it all means, still surrounding by the thundering pulse of celebrity death tributes and tears. Is this a fitting, never-ending end for a bizarre life and (as of yet) mysterious death? An ensured, eternal spotlight for the consummate showman? A monster, as some would have him, made all the more horrific? The last and lasting exploitation of a fragile man full of ghosts? The list goes on, and oh, how the masses shall writhe with shock and delight…