Plastic Fantastic

Image not from Body Worlds - original source unknown

If you’re not shocked by the idea of mounting a dead animal’s head on the wall, why should you be shocked by Body Worlds 2?

The creepy Dr. Gunther Van Hagens has finally brought his Body Worlds 2 exhibition of plastinated human bodies to Baltimore. It opened at the Maryland Science Center in February. Already, members of the press and media seem to be kicking up the usual, predictable fuss. What people find confusing and disturbing about the Body Worlds exhibition, it seems, is that the plastinated cadavers are displayed outside a familiar context, which makes it difficult to say for sure whether we visitors should consider the exhibition as science, art, or some kind of freak show.

It’s worth remembering that in more traditional contexts, there’s nothing surprising or disturbing about the sight of preserved human bodies. Coroners, morticians, and medical examiners work with cadavers every day; their access to the secret world beneath the skin is simply taken for granted. For those who are called upon to conduct or witness autopsies as part of their profession, there’s nothing remotely taboo about blood vessels, nerve channels, or the muscular circuitry of the body. Those studying any kind of human science are soon familiar with anatomical secrets, from real life as well as models, diagrams, and illustrations in medical textbooks.

Significantly, Von Hagens admits to a personal vendetta against those authorities that believe in keeping anatomical viewing rights within the professional scientific community. He’s right, of course. We should all be able to know what goes on in our own bodies, under our own skin – if we want to, of course. (Not all of us do).

Still, it’s only recently that the scientific community had had a monopoly on the display of body parts. In the Renaissance, for example, the Cabinet of Curiosities was a staple of both private and public collections, and often featured preserved anatomies, bones, and fetuses, sometimes posed in grotesque tableaux. A brief glance at the history of art reminds us how commonplace is the display of human body parts, from Leonardo Da Vinci’s studies of the human skull to La Specola in Florence, which contains a series of beautiful models very similar to the real human bodies on display in Body Worlds, except that those in La Specola are painstakingly hand-made from wax. Much more recently, The National Library of Medicine’s Visible Human Project sliced the frozen corpse of a 39-year-old prison inmate into hundreds of paper-thin sheets and photographed them to build a visual atlas of the body.

Watching real dead bodies being stripped of their flesh may not be most people’s idea of Saturday night at the movies, but nervier souls with a healthy morbid streak should check out the following three documentaries, all of which are far more vivid and disturbing than anything Gunther Van Hagens has to offer: Fred Wiseman’s 1971 32-minute autopsy film The Act of Seeing With One’s Own Eyes, Grover Babcock and Blue Hadaegh’s 2003 documentary A Certain Kind of Death, and Thierry Zeno’s Of the Dead (1981), which also contains footage of an entire autopsy.

Then there are Damien Hirst’s split cows and pickled sharks, which beg the question: case, why are dissected human bodies considered to be so shocking, while few of us are disturbed by the idea of taxidermy? Are not animals also individuals with unique identities, just like human beings? If you’re not shocked by the idea of mounting a dead animal’s head on the wall, why should you be shocked by Body Worlds 2?

For that matter, have you ever taken a look inside a slaughterhouse? Gunther Van Hagens, eat your heart out.


The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

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It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

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Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

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