Sensitivity - what is it? Is sensitivity the innocence that we are born with, the innocence that we are conditioned to have through our environment, or the innocence that there is before education and peer groups?
The other day I was watching a part of CSI: Miami, and it is obvious that Miami has a particular fascination with gore (Miami also happens to be one of the worst TV shows out there). I began considering other television shows, video games, popular internet videos, and movies, and I realized that violence, gore, and terror seems to be a regular part of our entertainment schedule. Take the popular movies Sweeney Todd, Repo! The Genetic Opera, any of the Grand Theft Auto games, the internet series Neurotically Yours and Happy Tree Friends, and the television shows CSI, Dexter, Nip/Tuck, and just about any drama. One could argue that since a ratings system has been put in place for these types of visual entertainments, simulated violence has become more acceptable. Others say that "back in the good old days," that things like this weren't present at all - which is correct to a certain degree.
This argument is also made for the sexual side of our visual entertainments. "Women just weren't treated that way in my day," and other limp defenses are made. And really, you have to admit, there seems to be an increased amount of sexualization of anything and everything in our age. What was once horrendously taboo to be shown on television, film or other forms of media is now the norm, and new envelopes are being pushed seemingly harder than ever before.
All this could be argued as an increasing lack of sensitivity to our visual media culture. One can look back, see how things "used to be" and come to the conclusion that visual media and our sensitivity to it has gotten steadily worse.
But...is that really the case? Were things ever better in the old days? They still had the bawdy entertainment that we have today, and they encountered violence in true life that we do not encounter today. Think about Shakespeare: several of his most famous plays are either strongly suggestive or very bawdy, and yet today, Shakespeare is considered high class. Also, people did not shield themselves from real life violence like we do today. Think of public hangings, public beheadings, vigilantism, slaughtering farm animals for food, etc. Not even kids were sheltered from this stuff. And do not episodes like this take a certain amount of insensitivity to process?
In a way, we are more sheltered than we've ever been in history. Executions are not made public. Television news broadcasting stations can be reprimanded if gory violence is displayed because it's "primetime television." We have the FCC (as corrupt a bureaucratic department as any other, but it is there to do some measure of policing). And show me someone who knows how to kill a chicken for dinner these days. Show me someone who raises their own food or knows where their food comes, for that matter.
An example of this are fairytales. Yep, Western, pre-Grimm, pre-Disney fairytales - do a google on them. I promise you, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Little Red Riding Hood, and Snow White were not the squeaky clean fairy tales that we have now. There was bawdy sex, violence, and terror to be had in every paragraph, and all told with delicious delight. These fairy tales were once oral tales, and they were often told around community gatherings...in which there would be children. Children would not be shielded from reality. In fact, it was quite common up until the mid 20th century for families to sleep together in one room - and of course, Mom and Dad still had to have sex sometime, right?
To argue that in "the good old days" people were more sensitive to violence and sex is (to use an English phrase) bollocks. They were simply insensitive to things that we have become sensitive to. So I would argue that each generation becomes both sensitive and insensitive to different things, but the balance of sensitivity and insensitivity stays basically the same.