A Mock Advertisement to Make Your Muscles Crawl
by Eric Detweiler
In the satirical advertisement she’s created here, Hannah Moreno made my skin crawl–even more so given the lack of skin on the preserved bodies that the ad depicts. I say that as a compliment: the sort of grotesque over-stimulation she evokes is reminiscent of scenes in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, or the ads that run relentlessly in the margins of Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? or the TV show Futurama. Her ad’s written words flirt with both poetry and sloganeering, working to simultaneously seduce and bully the reader. The images she mixes in with photographs of Body Worlds’ plastinated population, meanwhile, suggest both vigor (a blooming plant, a crouched skateboarder, dancing silhouettes) and death (a graveyard, hourglasses, the Grim Reaper himself), and their sheer number and frequency makes it almost impossible to separate the visceral reactions they prompt. Am I enchanted? Nauseated? Fascinated? Yes, and yes, and yes, and all at once.
The rhetorical appeal (or all-too-appropriate lack thereof) of the ad provokes questions not just about death and the lengths to which one might go to ameliorate its pull, but about the limits of consent and the ethics of scientific spectacle. To what extent is donating your body for plastination a way of “giving back” or a show of self-aggrandizement? Where is the line between anatomical education and voyeurism? At the same time, however, the ways in which the ad’s style mirrors all-too-familiar tropes from actual product pitches–from online pop-up ads for cosmetics to magazine spreads touting pharmaceuticals to informercials peddling exercise equipment–make it hard to forget that plastination is not some isolated outlier in our uncomfortable relationship to death. If it does draw our attention to an uncomfortable horizon, Moreno’s ad also suggests we were perhaps already there. It’s just that plastination relieves us of the eyelids with which we might otherwise shield our vision.