Tracking trends and countertrends

As much as journalists like to spot trends and alert readers to them, sometimes it isn't quite that simple.

American culture can seem like a tidal river: Check it once, and it's running one way; check again, and it's headed the opposite direction. And all the while, eddies and backwaters are swirling: Some of them eventually may cut new channels and head the river in whole new directions.

On Feb. 1, we ran a story on this page entitled "Erotica Runs Rampant," detailing the pervasiveness of ever-stronger sexual content in the mainstream media - much of it aimed at impressionable teens - and the harmful effect that some observers feel it is having on American society.

As troubling as that picture is in many ways, we realize it's not all that is happening. In today's cover story, staff writer M.S. Mason, whose interest in movies goes at least several decades back to her days as a graduate student in film studies at the University of California at Los Angeles, shows how even today popular movies (and TV shows) have not lost interest in the theme of innocence.

Nor have moviegoers and TV viewers. "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" and "The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring," whose central characters are innocents, have grossed $900 million and $670 million, respectively, at the box office - astounding numbers that will head higher as they continue to play around the world.

Our illustration at the right symbolizes the two trends: two homes in which very different scenarios are being played out.

We'll continue to follow these conflicting crosscurrents of popular culture in the weeks and months ahead.

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