Buyer beware in a multichannel world

Sex sells. That's the conventional wisdom. And since popular culture is mostly about selling something, once you accept this premise it perhaps only makes sense that more - and raunchier sex - will sell more.

At least, that seems to be the operating principle in much of television, film, and advertising today. With less government regulation of what's permissible, and more public tolerance of what might once have been considered extreme, caveat emptor has become the best advice to those navigating today's multichannel media world.

Today's cover story pulls together a cogent picture of what's happening and why. Some of the evidence of a new level of sexual explicitness in popular culture is anecdotal; some of it is more quantifiable. Altogether, it paints a picture worth pondering - and raises plenty of important questions that await good answers.

Of course, this isn't the whole picture. Countering public fascination with sexuality is a fascination with its opposite: innocence. Two of the biggest box office movies in recent weeks - "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" and "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" - have characters (Harry Potter and Frodo Baggins) who express innocence. Along with other fine qualities, such as courage and honor, innocence becomes their protection - and the means by which they thwart evil.

Both films attract the same young audiences that are prime targets of those who think only sexual heat sells a film - or any product, for that matter. In a coming cover story, Feb. 15, we'll examine this refreshing countercurrent and ask why innocence continues to pop up in popular culture to pull at our hearts and minds.

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