Once a corpse in a wildly popular “Bodies Exhibition” had some things to say about the crowd before it. First of all, what were they even doing here? For days mobs of them had been pressed up against the glass doors like shoppers ready to trample one another to get to that price-slashed doo-dah or whatever it was they felt lacking in their lives. Fistfights were a constant threat as irritable parents accused one another of cutting into line and trying to get to the corpses on display before “my kids, little Joey and Mary Beth here, who’ve been up half the night with excitement.” As if death were an action toy or a doll in a box. And look at the way these people dressed. If they had no dignity themselves, couldn’t they grant that the corpses they were gawking at might have some measure of self-regard? Did they imagine the fellow in the pose of a champion runner, all his muscles bared and preserved with silicone, all the beauty of a powerful body at its peak and never to decline, did they imagine he would permit his perfect form to be draped in their stained T-shirts and loud, saggy Bermudas? Or the young woman on exhibit in graceful, quiet awareness of her mind and body in balance and at ease, was she secretly thankful for being spared a decline into one of these dumpy, over-fed frights with their minds and bodies at such destructive odds? Even the corpses whose organs displayed various stages of disease or decay must wince at the spectacle of squinting and grimacing patrons who’d bought tickets for an opportunity to feel pleased with their own condition by comparison. Little did they know who looked the more ravaged by time, excess, and neglect. Multitudes all in a sweat, both figuratively and literally, hovering about bodies as cool as statues while barely able to resist the urge to reach out for a furtive poke. But it was the unacknowledged fascination with death betrayed by every last one of these visitors, its hypnotic pull on them as they awkwardly tried to mask their fixation with displays of exaggerated disgust or uneasy titters, that struck the corpse as most unseemly. Rather than giving themselves over to awe at the splendors of life on full view, they covered their embarrassment at that raw grandeur by a kind of through-the-fingers Peeping Tom mentality, as if to satisfy a secret obsession while still pretending they didn’t suffer from it in the slightest. This addiction to death while in denial of a longing for it must leave them only half alive, numb to their own existence unless it brought them some thrill or other to hold their attention for a while. Like Thanatos and Eros in the cheap seats, side by side but oblivious to each other’s presence. No wonder benumbed, waxen pornography was the biggest business on the planet. What else could offer these people the combination of titillation and safe remove that no doubt brought them to this exhibition as well? How prurient! And how morbid! “Who are the real dead ones here, anyway?” the corpse wanted to ask.
Copyright © 2011 by Geoffrey Grosshans