The entire history of popular culture is one of chipping away at restraint. Whatever else happens in media, religion, music, commerce, one constant is that the culture becomes more permissive and finds innocuous that which was once shocking. In the 1920s, flappers were shocking because they wore short skirts that showed their ankles. Now we're happy if starlets wear underwear, so we don't accidentally get to know them too well as they're getting out of cars. Preachers got all het up about the sinfulness of rock and roll in the 1950s, but now the music has been coopted by Christian bands and Stephen Baldwin: Extreme Sports Evangelist. Even the permissive '60s seem quaint and innocent from this distance.
The change is so ingrained—people don't seem aware that some things ever raised any hackles, even people who still might find them offensive if they could be bothered to pay attention. I'm thinking of the morning show guys at local radio behemoth KQRS. They go merrily on their meathead, homophobic way, but pause occasionally to rock out to "Lola" by the Kinks or "Walk on the Wild Side" by Lou Reed.
But here's what I don't get: All along the way, we've had these conservatives clinging to doorjambs as they are carried through history ("Nooooo I don't want to goooooo"). Whether its evolution or feminists or gay marriage, every change threatens a) the fabric of society, b) the children, c) our immortal soul, and so on. Which, you know, change is scary and while I don't agree with them, I understand the urge to put on the brakes and stop things from moving so fast. But they seem to think that we're actually going to change direction. After the entire course of human history, with its steady climb in ever-greater freedoms and increasing personal expression and previously un-thought-of permissiveness, we're suddenly going to be all, "You're right. Women shouldn't vote and here's the First Amendment back." Sometimes the pendulum does swing back to the conservative side, but in the long term, their war with the culture is not win-able. (I'm looking at you O'Reilly, ya big jerk.)
What I see is that while the culture gets more permissive, people internalize the need for restraint. They work really hard, overschedule themselves and their kids, wish they had more time with loved ones, feel guilty about stuff they're not getting done and the self-improvement they don't have time for, and are generally very tightly wound. Popular culture is more permissive, but regular folks seems to be permitting themselves fewer and fewer freedoms. And they don't have much time left over for eroding their moral core.
Meanwhile, you can't turn back time and squeeze back out of the culture that for which you've already made room. And that is calming to me. I think George Bush is a terrible president, and I was certainly not pleased when he was "elected." But in the long run, he and his unpleasant reactionary ilk will be outmoded. You can't stop history, and we will learn and grow in spite of you.
Take deep breaths. You'll be fine. (Ya big jerks.)