Your chin is placed on a low bar and a screw forces the cap down. Your teeth are crushed into the sockets and pressure is exerted until your brain ejects through fragmented skull. Many people claim they would never be able to torture another being, but every one of us has the capacity for cruelty and just don’t realize it. Being placed in unfamiliar situations, faced with blind obedience to authority, power without regulation or having the choice of anonymity can lead people to commit horrific acts. The head crusher is just one of many merciless devices displayed at the “Instruments of Torture” exhibit at the San Diego Museum of Man. Located in Balboa Park, the exhibit displays various devices of torture, dating as far back as the 16th century, showing human cruelty is not as distant from our time as many believe.
“Instruments of Torture” opened this summer on July 14th and its closing date is still unknown. Visitors Service Associate Alonso Lopez said the exhibit’s conclusion all depends on public interest.
“The date’s not exact but we might have it for a few more months or for a year depending on sales,” Lopez said. Based on the attraction’s current popularity, it seems this exhibit will remain open for quite some time. Not only does the exhibit display different mechanisms of torture, it is also meant to generate awareness.
“The exhibit’s intention is to inform people how torture still exists today and not just in medieval times,” Lopez said. “It’s important to prevent future torture, such as wars and everything else going on right now.”
Along with the well-known iron maiden and guillotine, other instruments include thumbscrews, skull-splitters and more. All are guaranteed to make visitors cringe, especially the oral, rectal and vaginal pear. Used by the Venetians from 1575 – 1700, this apparatus expands the listed body parts by force of the screw to maximum width of the body cavity. Some devices from the displays are still used today, such as the head crusher, which is used for interrogational purposes, but currently has soft chin pads that don’t leave marks on the skin, while still exerting enough skull pressure to assert pain. These displays reveal how torture is not a distant concept.
Even if museums don’t usually interest you, this exhibit is guaranteed to captivate your attention, as it takes a different approach to reveal the darker side of human nature. A gruesome exhibit may not be at the top of your Saturday afternoon to-do list, but for San Diego State foods and nutrition sophomore Angela Mariscal, it served more as an eye-opening experience. “Everyone has a pre notion of the world being a very violent place, but once you put in actual artifacts, it becomes finite and so real,” Mariscal said. She recommended all students seeking a unique museum experience to visit.
“Some will love it, some will hate it and some just won’t get it,” Mariscal said.
Although each instrument has a grueling history, its display is intended for visitors to search internally and evaluate his or her own character as a human being. The exhibit strongly emphasizes bystanders can be just as atrocious as those directly inflicting pain. The museum has a deeper significance to help us reflect our own destructive contributions. The student fee of $15, which covers entrance to the museum’s core exhibits is a small price to pay for such an experience. But SDSU professor and department chair of anthropology Seth Mallios said this exhibit isn’t exactly G-rated.
“The brutality of it jumps out at you. This is not an exhibit for kids,” Mallios said. Also on the programs committee for the Museum of Man, Mallios explains that it offers more than just a personal focus.
“You get to see this in so many different cultures. It gets at a universal human condition that so many different people have forms of brutalizing one another,” Mallios said.