Early Look at Body Worlds

Just got back from the premiere of Body Worlds at Discovery Place. While everyone else on the internet is blogging about The Sopranos‘ ending (loved it), I figured I would post about Body Worlds.

It’s a much larger exhibit than I expected. If you go, allow yourself plenty of time. To be honest, I’ve never been much of a science buff. I slept through AP Biology in high school and signed up for the easiest science classes I could find in college. So if I hadn’t been invited to the premiere (perks of the job), I’m not sure if I would have gone to see it. It’s an interesting, worthwhile exhibit. It took a while before it sunk in to me that these were real bodies. The creators used a process called plastination (which is what it sounds like) to, um, flesh them out for the purposes of the exhibit. So at first, they just seemed like the plastic models from school days, only better. But as I went through the exhibit and saw various body parts up close, it began to seem more real.

There were a lot of people at the premiere, so it was hard to get the full effect. I hope DP allows fewer people in for the regular exhibit. But still, several parts of the exhibit were memorable. There was a small section devoted to the ravages of lung cancer. It would make any smoker think twice. One woman next to me was a smoker (her friend started giving her a hard time), and she joked that she was an independent woman and could make her own decisions. But behind that facade of humor, you know she was thinking, damn, that’s what my lung looks like (i.e. black and disfigured).

The fetal development section was fascinating and moving. There were displays of fetuses ranging from 4 weeks up to conception, from the size of a quarter to the size of an infant. At the end was a display of a woman with an almost full-term pregnancy. (A poster said that all fetuses on display died of natural causes, and a DP docent made clear to visitors what they were about to see, if they so chose.) That little room was worth a truckload of bio books.

To me, nothing about the exhibit was disturbing. But then, I’m one of those jaded, cynical media types. In a few of the bodies on display, the muscles were splayed in bizarre shapes and directions. A few figures held their brains in their hands. I could see how that might disturb some folks. But sometimes, learning something new can make you a little uncomfortable. I think that’s OK.

An interesting sideshow to this night was observing the observers. Carolinas Medical Center is the presenting sponsor for the exhibit, and a lot of doctors were in attendance. Some of them looked at the exhibit with child-like wonder, others with blase, been-there, seen-that expressions. They held running side conversations about anatomy and biology. I could tell a few were dying to touch the bodies (no pun intended). A few were tipsy from the reception, which I missed, stuck at the office finishing up the July issue. Which, ironically, is our Top Docs issue. In fact, I saw a few previous cover subjects at the exhibit. And I recognized several name tags from having just finished editing the list. I also saw some names from past issues that didn’t make this year’s list. I averted eye contact with them because I was, you know, tired.

The exhibit is worth seeing. You’ll learn more than you think you would. I’m really glad it’s in Charlotte. The ticket price is a little steep ($22 for adults, $15 for kids), but this was an expensive exhibit to produce. Also, I believe several DP partners offer $2-off coupons. Check at Harris Teeter or Earth Fare, or download a coupon here. —R.T.

P.S. If you’ve seen the exhibit, or even if you haven’t, let me know what you think.

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