Mad scientists coming to a museum near you


THE WORKING STIFF – By Darren Garnick
“Where are all the protestors at Body Worlds?”

The Boston Herald — August 16, 2006

Boston’s human rights activists go ballistic whenever a sneaker
company pays overseas workers only a gazillion times their country’s
minimum wage. But when a prestigious city institution is linked to a
Chinese sweatshop that makes corpses into life-size action figures,
there is silence.

Dead silence.

A New York Times reporter recently visited the factory that processes
cadavers for the Museum of Science’s new “Body Worlds 2”
exhibit, which debuted two weeks ago and runs through January 7, 2007.
In case you’ve missed all the gushing local media coverage, the
exhibit showcases plastic-injected human corpses frozen in various
athletic and sedentary poses.

For 24 bucks, museum visitors can look at “original, authentic and
inspiring” dead bodies playing soccer, hunched over a computer or
cruising upside down on a skateboard. German scientist Gunther von
Hagens, who seems ready to take over for Dr. Evil in the next Austin
Powers movie, laughably calls his traveling sideshow an effort to
“democratize anatomy.” No longer will medical students be the only
ones to see real cadavers, he claims, ignoring the fact that medical
students don’t pose their bodies like Barbies.

Von Hagens’ factory in Dalian, China’s third largest port, employs 260
medical school grads to work the “Body Worlds” assembly line.
According to the Times report, factory workers get $200-$400 a month
to peel skin, scrape fat off muscle and replace bodily fluids with
soft plastic. Based on a 40-hour work week, that comes to $1.25 to
$2.50 an hour for what has to be the grossest job in the Eastern

Oh yeah, one more thing. Von Hagens concedes that his former factory
manager may have used “unclaimed bodies” from the morgue when he first
set up shop in 1999. Hey, there’s a billion Chinese. Who’s gonna
notice if a few missing political prisoners are stripped down to their
vital organs, injected with plastic and posed in ballet slippers?

Hey you, Ms. Davis Square Hippie Chick with the “Bread Not Bombs” pin
on your backpack and the Che Guevara earrings. Why aren’t you
protesting the Body Worlds sweatshop factory in Dalian?

You know what the difference is between the Body Worlds people and the
dead butterflies pinned under glass in the Museum of Science basement?
The butterflies still have their dignity.

The proud inventor of the “plastination” process, von Hagens is
essentially a 21st century Dr. Frankenstein with a gift shop.

At the Body Worlds souvenir stand outside the exhibit, museum patrons
can bring home their favorite dead bodies on a set of refrigerator
magnets ($12.95), commemorative t-shirts ($25), plastination keychains
($3.95 ), microwave safe coffee mugs ($12.95), and even jigsaw puzzles
($9.95). Fun for the whole family!

The infamous Alcor cryonics lab in Arizona seems almost classy by
comparison. At least you don’t see them selling snowglobes with
floating Ted Williams heads.

Hey you, Mr. Surly Harvard Square Coffee Shop Guy with the “Rage Against the Machine” t-shirt. Why aren’t you
protesting the Body Worlds sweatshop factory in Dalian?

Each one of the human sculptures obviously has a name and a life
story. But we’re not told if the face helplessly staring at us was
once a shipbuilder in Gdansk, a dissident college professor in
Shanghai, or a little old lady from Pasadena. Dr. Angelina Whalley,
the exhibit’s designer and von Hagens’ wife, recently told the Herald

“We feel (that) would distract visitors,” she explained. “When you
put information like ‘This was Mr. So-and-So, he was this age, he died
of this disease,’ people tend to feel sorry.”

The last thing Dr. Whalley and her unsentimental hubby want is for
people to waste their time with silly emotional issues, moral issues.

Hey you, Mr. Newton City Alderman with the “Save Darfur” sticker on
your Volvo SUV. Why aren’t you protesting the Body Worlds sweatshop
factory in Dalian?

According to the mad scientist’s PR people, all of the bodies on
display in Boston signed consent forms when they allegedly had
functioning brains. Now, you can join them. Body donation forms are
available on-line and at the Museum of Science. After your funeral,
you too, could be enjoying a free trip to China.

No promises what you might be doing later though. Maybe you’ll spend
eternity lifting barbells or maybe you’ll be forever strapping on pink
toe shoes.

Any volunteers?

Darren Garnick’s “Working Stiff” column runs every Wednesday in the
Boston Herald. Stories or rants about the workplace are welcomed at heraldstiff (at)


The mad scientists are upset with me. So much so that they hired a global PR firm to handle their rebuttal.

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