quick hit: reality, spectacle, and medical museums

On Friday I posted a review of Jennifer Pozner's new book on reality television which in turn inspired my friend Laura, at her newly-minted blog Oh, My Sainted Aunt, to muse on the relationship between reality television and our relationship to the objects in medical museums. Such is the incestuous power of the interwebs.

I’ve been thinking a lot about reality television, as it is a popular lunch topic at my new workplace and I generally listen rather than contribute, as I do not watch reality TV.  But here’s the context, ya’ll, and why I’ve been thinking about spectacle lately.

You see, I work in a medical museum, an historical collection of pathology material, which includes lots of medical oddities in jars.  The human tissue includes bits of tattooed skin, congenitally deformed fetuses, skulls, diseased tissue, and so forth.  These materials were collected over the past 150 years, some ethically, some not (and some have been repatriated, etc.), but the mission was medical and scientific advancement (insert ethics and human experimentation caveat here).  Historically, much of this material would have also made it’s way into side-shows and freak-shows, which were popular (and socially acceptable) forms of public entertainment.  Remember of course, that this was also done with real live people as well, such as in the “native” exhibits that the Colombian Exposition and World’s Fairs.  Suffice to say that we have a history of using human beings (the odd and unfamiliar) as a source of spectacle and speculation in ways that were and are profoundly dehumanizing.  (See where I’m going yet?)

Read the whole thing over at Oh, My Sainted Aunt (and then follow her blog on your reader of choice!)

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