(9/16/13) Taboos have been perpetually moving targets throughout civilization–rising and falling based on the religious, social or political wind direction of the day. Recently, though, as societies have become connected like never before, exposure (some might even say, overexposure) to previously taboo concepts appears to have desensitized many to them, leaving fewer inhibitions and more implied freedom to explore.
For the scope of this article, we probably need to establish a common frame of reference that only includes sexually-oriented taboo activities occurring between consenting adults. Otherwise, it could easily run off in hundreds of tangents and it’s reasonable to presume that taboos outside this spotlight are commonly accepted by the majority as protective in nature. Inside the above focus, it’s not as much about protection as it is about mature, personal responsibility in exploring something that’s been previously frowned upon, restricted or even prohibited outright because of cultural custom. Those types in particular have been the taboos that seemingly self-destruct easily these days.
Let’s use a simple, fairly benign example to illustrate: Until the mid-20th Century, it was generally taboo to discuss sex openly and certainly not in public. Today, it’s rare that you can sit in a coffee shop and not overhear a gathering at the next table casually bantering the graphic details of someone’s recent sexcapade. Yeah, that kind of taboo has pretty much been shaved to a nub in today’s everyone-gets-a-trophy-no-matter-how-badly-they-played environment.
Some might criticize that sort of thing as a lowering of social standards while others would praise it as liberating them. It’s seems pretty natural that every generation rebels in some fashion from the previous one, so it really shouldn’t be much of a surprise to see such social shifts. In any event, going from the Leave it to Beaver era where married couples were never shown sleeping together much less talking about it to the fare of today where it’s almost expected that key plotlines will be frequently interrupted with gratuitous sportboinking was a simple, predictable extension of media-induced desensitization. By default, taboos became less the things of eternal damnation and more akin to advertised fun to be had by those who would boldly fly in the face of artificial/superficial no-nos.
Is this a good thing or a bad thing? We’d prefer you judge for yourself and we’d love to hear your thoughts because there are plenty of reasonable arguments to be made on all 47 sides of this phenomenon. From our point of view, we see the lowest common denominator as simply: If someone tells us we’re not allowed to do something, we’re instinctively curious about it. If the “something” proves to be of no harm to anyone else and looks like it might be fun, then trying it is just a matter of individual adventurousness. Whether consciously or just as a by-product, we become taboo hunter-killers, seeking to stomp those little suckers by breaking through the perceived walls of outdated thinking in order to own today for ourselves. Since media in all of its modern forms has developed increasingly greater abilities to connect with audiences, giving them what they want–access to what they’ve previously been denied–is a fairly practical outcome. And once an idea is planted, some form of rooting is usually going to take place. That’s just nature, folks.
So, in many ways, the kinds of dying taboos we’re talking about here have, in recent years, been treated less like sturdy oaks and more like nasty weeds–being pulled and tossed aside as useless, artificial barriers to enjoying the beautiful gardens that lie beyond. It doesn’t mean it’s the end of civilization as we know it. Hardly. It just means it’s the next step in the evolution of it.