When I viewed the third assigned video in our module 4, I was so exhausted by the rapid fire presentation by the speaker and rotating hand gestures that I had to block the bottom portion to obscure the captions and her annoying gesticulations.  I was totally distracted by her frenzy of what looked similar to ASL side balloons for the deaf we see next to political speeches on TV, that I had to pause it multiple times just to catch a breath.  I wanted a way to slow down her speech but didn’t see a way to do that in U-tube. I suppose this staccato hand rap is the norm for a younger viewing audience but find that I had a hard time retaining her rapid fire bullets.  These multiple distractions aside, I came away with at least the final three nuggets she proposed for her opinion on the ethical underpinnings raised for museum collections in the past in light of NAGPRA lessons.

One thing that I wanted so see out of this was a macabre desire to view the cast of the conjoined twins at the museum in North Carolina when I visit my wife’s relatives in Chapple Hill if it’s still there. I read about the Siamese twins as they were called in American Heritage magazine 60 years ago. Their conjoined life together where they had wives and children piqued the bizarre thoughts of their longevity ala Barnum & Bailey’s freak shows.  The plaster upper torso casts at death showed the obvious stiches where they removed their organs, a truly gruesome thing to see.  But things of the human body being displayed is still a fascination that continues today. If you followed the super popular traveling exhibit out of Germany several years ago of the plasticine displays of cadavers who had various body parts injected with colored plastic and then dissolved the other parts.  This display showed all the major parts of the human anatomical system that we used to see in encyclopedias with colored transparent overlays or drug company models like the ones in doctors offices. Only these were in full scale while arranged in various poses.


Take A Peek Inside The Human Body At This Groundbreaking Exhibit • Body Worlds

And who doesn’t want to see the plaster casts of the victims from Pompeii today which have been scanned to reveal the remains inside?     http://pompeiisites.org/en/pompeii-map/analysis/the-casts/

Museums as freak shows of humans living and dead is something that needs to be extinguished and put away, but it needs to be balanced with the need to show human history, evolution and anatomy.  I recall a museum display on human reproduction where the viewers entered through a huge mockup of the birth canal to see the other displays of puberty, penises and other reproductive organs.

One tangential thought that came to mind when I saw the opening imagery of the museum heist from the Marvel movie Black Panther was all the ones of a similar genre like the two sequels of A Night at the Museum and others like The Davinci Code, and many iterations of Indiana Jones which played on the general public perception of museums in the past and present.

TRIVIA QUESTION:  Can you recall other popular movies that still portray these stereotypes?

2 Thoughts to “Video The Origin of Everything: The Problem with Museums”

  1. Angela Linn

    Thanks Martin – we’ll read more about the ethics of the Bodyworlds exhibits (https://bodyworlds.com/) when we get to module 11. I had the chance to attend a panel at the American Alliance of Museums meetings in Boston where the inventor of the plastination technique, Dr. Gunter Von Hagens, spoke to a packed room. The response ran the gamut, from direct attacks about the questionable way the bodies were obtained, to celebration for the blockbuster crowds the shows were bringing into museums. Can you think of how a museum could develop governing documents (e.g., mission statement, code of ethics, collecting or exhibit plans) to protect them against potential unethical activities associated with the display of human bodies?
    And if you like the question of cinematic portrayals of museums (accurate or stereotypical), you’ll like one of the options for our midterm!

    1. Martin Gutoski

      I think one of the objections to the display of human anatomy was that the cadaver donors were inmates from deceased prisoners. If I recall there was some flak because these were Germans which brought up objections harkening back Nazi concentration camp victims.

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