"Skinless Wonders": Body Worlds and the Victorian Freak Show
+ Author Affiliations
- Department of History, University of Utah, Carolyn Tanner Irish Humanities Building, 215 South Central Campus Drive, Room 310, Salt Lake City, Utah 84112.
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
In 2002, Gunther von Hagens's display of plastinated corpses opened in London. Although the public was fascinated by Body Worlds, the media largely castigated the exhibition by dismissing it as a resuscitated Victorian freak show. By using the freak show analogy, the British press expressed their moral objection to this type of bodily display. But Body Worlds and nineteenth-century displays of human anomalies were linked in more complex and telling ways as both attempted to be simultaneously entertaining and educational. This essay argues that these forms of corporeal exhibitionism are both examples of the dynamic relationship between the popular and professional cultures of the body that we often erroneously think of as separate and discrete. By reading Body Worlds against the Victorian freak show, I seek to generate a fuller understanding of the historical and enduring relationship between exhibitionary culture and the discourses of science, and thus to argue that the scientific and the spectacular have been, and clearly continue to be, symbiotic modes of generating bodily knowledge.