Body Worlds: Spectacularization and Its Role in Democratizing Anatomy
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Since 1993, Gunther von Hagens’ Body Worlds has been visited by over 40 million people worldwide. The plastinated displays marketed as “real human bodies” have elicited both praise and condemnation. Through an analysis of Body Worlds that incorporates ethical considerations from the disciplines of anatomy, museology, and art, this thesis seeks to determine whether Body Worlds spreads knowledge of anatomy at the expense of the donors’ dignity. After providing a historical foundation for the rise of public anatomy and body donation, the topics of body commodification, informed consent, and museum practices are discussed. This discussion concludes with the call for the closure of Body Worlds due to the systemic depersonalization of the human body. Rejecting Body Worlds’ narrative of the human experience with death and instead encouraging a public dialogue on the relationship between bodies, personhood, and death will foster a better public understanding of these issues than Body Worlds has the capacity to achieve.