Despite the trend toward increasingly squeaky-clean pop culture, where half of the top 10 movies at the box office for the year are kiddie crap, there's a counter-movement toward ever more lurid trash outside of the respectable mainstream — serial dramas about serial killers on TV, torture porn movies, and gory voyeuristic video games. Nothing is found in between that mixes wholesome and dark themes. There's a bunch of inoffensive kiddie stuff over here, and a pile of lurid filth way over there.
It's not so different from the climate of the Midcentury, where horror comic books, pulp novels, and the sleazier tiers of film noir stood out in stark contrast to the squeaky-clean world of Father Knows Best, Shirley Temple, and "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?"
In between those periods, pop culture shifted toward a more even spread of wholesome and dark themes. This reached its peak in the '80s and early '90s, when every week one of the mainstream, fit-for-the-whole-family sit-coms ran "a very special episode" about death and grieving, suicide, drug addiction, divorce, teenage pregnancy, teenage runaways, and so on. On the other side of the spectrum, the slasher horror movies portrayed teenagers who were wholesome and basically sympathetic — not brats whose death you'll be cheering along, and not flat cut-outs for puppet-like use in a concern-trolling melodrama like Law & Order: SVU.
Although I haven't seen them, the plot summaries of many hit movies from the Jazz Age sound a lot like "very special episodes" from the '80s — Flaming Youth, Children of Divorce, and so on. Horror classics like Dracula, Frankenstein, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and King Kong show victims who are basically likable and respectable — not faceless crowds a la the "attack of the giant ants" flicks from the Midcentury, or victims who are randomly abducted without having time to establish their basic likability, a la the comic books reviewed in Seduction of the Innocent, or 21st-century torture porn.
The examples from falling-crime times reveal a cocooning mindset — sure, there's this whole other world of sick perverted crap, but as long as we quarantine ourselves from it, everything will be all hunky-dory. "That kind of thing could never happen here." Or, "We'd never allow our children to..." What begins as an impulse for greater security leads to an ignorant and arrogant attitude about how vulnerable their neck of the woods is to dark forces.
In rising-crime times, pop culture reflects the more streetwise and humble attitude that it can happen here, and that parents or adults in general cannot put up a magic force-field around young people, if the dark forces want to get to them bad enough. Being more out-and-about, and the rising-crime climate that follows along with it, is a humbling experience.
Looking into the texture of pop culture thus allows us keener insight into the popular mind when it comes to a trait as important as hubris vs. humility, which we could not tell from grosser measures like, say, church attendance (butts in seats). Nothing wrong with coarse measures to begin with, but it's striking how much you can learn about people from other times and places by what kinds of culture resonate with them.