The film “Hairspray” opens with some eye-opening scenes: kids bouncing up and down in a moving car while unused seat belts drag along the pavement; pregnant women smoking and drinking merrily.
Set in 1962, the movie seeks to remind us of how many things once considered safe and acceptable are now viewed with horror. On the flip side, telling about integration and interracial romance, the theme is stuff that was once scary which is now quite commonplace.
It makes you wonder what currently outré thing will soon become accepted, and which currently popular practice or concept will become taboo, or at least, unpopular.
There is a body of opinion that suggests (incorrectly, I believe) that there is a connection between vaccination and autism. Some folks are starting to suggest that circumcision of males is cruel and unnecessary.
On a less squicky note, tattoos, once the province of sailors and circus performers, have entered the mainstream, for youth, anyway. Luckily, the fad of piercing appears to have peaked and is decline, for a hundred good reasons.
Pantyhose and nylons, once absolute requirements for the modern office, are starting to be left at home, and the bare (but-shaved) leg is moving ahead. For men, the necktie is an endangered species.
Whatever else Barack Obama may have accomplished (or not accomplished), he has struck a blow against cravats by frequently appearing in public tieless.
Same-sex marriage is also on the march; some form of gay union is legal in dozens of states and it seems likely that it will eventually be legal everywhere. Also on the rise are interracial marriages, and the biracial children who are the result.
Drunk driving was once winked, or shrugged at. How else was I supposed to get home? Now the penalties (financial and otherwise) are severe and the social reaction harsh.
The recreational and medicinal use of marijuana, on the other hand, is gaining traction and may spread. Drug laws in general are in for a revision, and part of the reason is budgetary.
Financially-strapped states are spending millions finding, trying and incarcerating people whose offenses consist largely of their selection of drug use (hemp and cocaine, for example, instead of tobacco and alcohol).
Age-of-consent laws may similarly be undergoing revision. The American standard is 18, but that’s among the highest in the world. Canada and Britain, for example, set the age at 16. In much of Europe it ranges from 13 to 15.
In a world where most people make their first carnal explorations long before 18, a revision would merely ratify the demands of nature and common practice, it’s been argued.
If all of this seems like a horrific future, it’s useful to understand that with the possible exception of gay marriage, many of our current rules and laws are relatively recent.
The use and possession of many now-illegal drugs was once totally lawful; age of consent laws varied and –in some cases – were unthinkable. As recently as 1895, in Delaware, it was 7 years old; in the 19th century the common range was 10 to 12 years old.
If the world indeed did move in the way I’ve described, it would be in some ways a conservative movement back to the way things used to me.
Of course, culture can resemble a pendulum, swinging first this way, then that. Society has gotten tougher on some things and more lenient on others.
You can get a ticket with a hefty fine – or even be convicted of child endangerment – if you don’t put your infant in a proper child carrier or seat while in a moving vehicle.
Some folks are pushing for outlawing guns; others think the solution is to allow more people to carry firearms.
Events and leaders can jump-start a movement. On the other hand, when change appears to be happening too fast, there can be a backlash with pushes society to rethink its new permissions and go back to another time. The only certainty, then, is change.