The Jaguar and the Anteater: Pornography Degree Zero

The Jaguar and the Anteater: Pornography Degree Zero

The Jaguar and the Anteater: Pornography Degree Zero

The Jaguar and the Anteater: Pornography Degree Zero


Over the last two decades, pornography has become not only one of the most spectacularly profitable industries in the West but also, in its own way, the most innovative, with the development of more and more individualized technologies of sexual stimulation and simulation. At the same time, it has been the focus of ever fiercer debates: political, ethical and judicial. Despite the media's expanding sexual obsessions, pornography remains largely a matter of public shame, while being privately consumed by millions of citizens, now female as well as male. It is a unique phenomenon of our time, and one whose real significance is still little understood.

In this remarkable study Bernard Arcand approaches pornography as an anthropologist, in an attempt to explain precisely why it exists in these forms at the moment, and with what consequences. To do so, he has assembled data on the state of the industry and its technology, on its history, and on the polemics it has engendered, especially, but not exclusively, among feminists. The result is probably the most comprehensive overview of the subject ever published.

But Arcand's main concern in The Jaguar and the Anteater is to elucidate the ways in which pornography is a mirror of our modernity- how we get the porn we deserve and need. Drawing on the work of social theorists such as Lasch, Sennet, Baudrillard and Lipovetsky, he examines the consumption of pornography and its wider significance in terms of privatization, specialization, isolation and extremism. And, while stressing the peculiar originality of contemporary porn, he uses anthropological material, particularly from South American tribal societies, to suggest that the phenomenon is also a new and uncertain response to a series of elementary questions concerning modesty and desire, masturbation and inhibition, death and illusions of eternal youth.


Deep down, only degree zero can combat myth.



Come to think of it, the beginning of this story is not very exciting. Imagine the dean of a social-science faculty declaring that the Department of Anthropology was attracting too few students to have even a hope of covering its expenses, and that anyway, anthropology was not a discipline that was really appropriate "in this day and age." A quick reaction was called for: a newspaper was consulted to see what it was that was preoccupying this "day and age" that the dean seemed to know so well. The year was 1983, and the section of the newspaper given over to the letters and opinions of its readers was largely occupied by the controversies surrounding the political control of pornography. Most of the readers were denouncing the constant increase in the marketing of pornography, which ranked as one of the scourges of modern society and was perceived as the reflection of a general degradation of the social, cultural, and moral environment; a kind of pollution, comparable to the degradation of nature. Since the passion which these debates exhibited indicated that they concerned a matter of great importance, and since sex remains a very useful and effective advertising tool, the subject seemed ideally suited.

So the first goal of this book is to show how anthropology can . . .

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