Our local science museum is closed, allegedly temporarily, although the light is growing dim. The institution’s financial problems are broad, deep and rather simple — it doesn’t have any. Money, that is. It can’t borrow, as it’s already tapped out a line of credit and defaulted on a loan. You think to yourself, how could things have gotten so bad?
No simple answer, but the biggest chunk? Bad management. Also, those stupid mummies.
The billboards for the “Accidental Mummies of Guanajuato” exhibit were everywhere for a while. I seem to recall they emphasized the actual human corpses!!! angle, and coming so soon after the museum hosted one of those Chinese real-bodies exhibits, I wondered if I couldn’t spin it into an essay for someone, as it seemed so obvious that was the hook.
For those who’ve never been to one, the Chinese exhibits — Body Worlds, Bodies: The Exhibition, one or two others — were a gimmicky attraction a while back. It used a technique called “plastination” to put a whole cemetery full of corpses on display, many with baroque cutaways revealing various internal systems. All the specimens were Chinese, which led to obvious questions about provenance, as they say in the art world. Patrons were assured all was on the up-and-up, that the individuals had donated their bodies to science willingly, and don’t give it another thought. On the other hand, no one ever saw a signed release, either.
I snuck away to see it while chaperoning a field trip with Kate’s fourth-grade class. I found it…interesting. Not terribly ghoulish, but not without a distinct whiff of it, either. (“There is no odor,” an elderly docent assured us as we rode an elevator to the special floor, the same briefing where we were handed the donated-to-science story.) There were moments of strange beauty — I recall a circulatory system standing alone like a red cloud — and others I found unnecessary, like the preserved fetuses. But OK, I saw it, cross that one off the list.
When the bodies were followed by the mummies, it seemed to bespeak a trend. Further reading was appalling. The mummies were “accidental” because they’d been interred in above-ground burial niches in a particular mountain town, where the combination of high heat and low humidity dessicated them quickly. They were discovered when families could no longer pay a municipal grave tax, and the bodies were evicted from not-so-final resting places. They were collected for the exhibit the old-fashioned way, with pesos.
The show was gussied up with material about life in a 19th-century Mexican village and other cultural displays, but the attraction was the bodies themselves. To me, this was a distinct call-and-raise on Chinese political prisoners; come look at bodies of people who could be the parents or grandparents of living people, with no real science attached beyond the stuff that could be covered in a paragraph.
And the Detroit Science Center actually curated this thing, dumping $1 million into it in hopes it would be a moneymaker when it went on the road, but there was a lawsuit, and so far it’s only opened in one other city (Dallas), and it didn’t do so well there, either.
I don’t have a particularly Catholic view of human remains. When the soul, if any, departs, our bodies are just 100-plus pounds of inconvenient meat. But I think we have the right to determine what happens to our meat afterward, and I bet all those Mexican folks had no idea they’d be put in a traveling sideshow. It was maybe a bridge too far.
Of all the things I thought would sink Rick Perry, I never thought it would be the casual racism of his family’s hunting-camp moniker, but whatever. As in most questions about racial issues, I turn to Ta-Nehisi Coates, and I think he has this one about right.
Meanwhile, as is often the case, Cooz offers us some musical accompaniment, with apologies to John Prine:
When I was a young pol my family would travel
to a corner of Texas where the ranches once lay
There’s a big n… rock we couldn’t flip over
so we paid us some n…cowhands to paint it one day
And daddy won’t you take me back to N…..head Hunt Club
Down by the Brazos with a kilo of blow
Well I’m sorry my son
But the Jews found our marker
And now every faggot and commie’ll know
Well sometimes we’d travel on up to the Brazos
and shoot at the migrants a’ washin their clothes
But we was so coked up we couldn’t hit nothin
and I sucked a whole Sani-Straw right up my nose.
Then the whole DC Press corps came down with their shovels
and they talked to the neighbors
And they looked at the…rock.
And now they’re all squawkin’ that I’m just a racist
So I called George Allen
and we had us a talk.
I said “George, my campaign’s floated right down the Brazos. And that old n…Herman Cain’s trying to crucify me.”
And old George said “Macaca, who gave you my number? And why do you crackers think my time is free?”
If you missed this yesterday, don’t.
A beautiful day is shaping up outside, and I have errands to run, which I think I will do on the bike. So I’m outta here, all.