The children -- two boys and a girl who were then in 10th and 11th grade -- were expelled, and the event set off weeks of anguished soul searching on and off campus. The school called in mental health specialists, held marathon meetings and coffees, sponsored seminars for parents and children on the responsible use of the Internet. But it soon became clear, she said, that the incident was far more about the particular children than their cultural influences.
"There really was no link to anything larger," said Wrubel, who stayed in touch with two of the three after they changed schools and followed their redemption proudly as they embarked on a community service project in which they're still engaged.
"They were just being inappropriate and experimenting, and they had their own issues. This is a tough age."
Many young people say their parents would be less shocked by the current landscape if they realized how much the extreme end of the spectrum has changed. For example, porn as they know it now, they say, makes "Deep Throat," the groundbreaking 1972 X-rated film, look tame. It lacks even the pretense of a plot, and much of it is in short, brutal bursts whose harshness then seeps into their language, fashion and postures.
"In a lot of these films, the camera itself is violent," said Shade Remelin, a 22-year-old Laguna Beach filmmaker who, as a film student at UC Santa Barbara, once wrote a 15-page letter in hope of persuading a professor who'd included porn in a film class there to talk less about the aesthetics of the genre and more about its misogyny.
"Everything is done with hand-held now, so the camera is in everybody's face," he said. "It's not only like you're watching it, but like you're doing it. Which wouldn't necessarily be bad if what they showed was mostly normal sex, but it isn't. It's really mean stuff. Mean to women. In a lot of them, women don't even get a name."
That said, much of the extreme content being produced now is also a product of this generation, and, more important, its history, notes Santa Monica attorney Jeffrey J. Douglas, board chairman of the Free Speech Coalition, a trade association for the adult industry. Before the Internet, he said, mail-order erotica was far less accessible and most sexually explicit material was sold by merchants who feared criminal prosecution and local sanctions. But with the rise of the World Wide Web, which opened the door for a flood of cheap content -- much of it made outside U.S. jurisdiction -- any inclination to self-censor went the way of the corner adult bookstore.
"A lot of the domestic content producers now literally came of age in an era in which there were no federal prosecutions," said Douglas. Four years ago, he said, he got into a conversation about a 1987 obscenity prosecution with a 20-year-old who had made a medium-size fortune producing explicit material online.
"The guy looked at me and said, 'Do you know how old I was in 1987?' It was like I was talking about the Spanish-American War."
With that sort of shift at the margins, teens say, shock value simply isn't what it used to be. The disconnect was on display recently at an Orange County movie theater where the documentary "Inside Deep Throat" was playing. The audience was overwhelmingly middle-age. Though it was a Saturday at a mall, not a young person was in sight and not one adolescent lurked near the forbidden NC-17 doorway. Not even Ben Meredith, the 18-year-old popcorn jockey, had bothered to check out the action.
"I mean, porn is really easy to get now," the UC Irvine freshman shrugged, tossing his long bangs, which were dyed blood-orange. "It's like, who cares?"
X-rated images, he said, were "like cigarettes, which everybody can get if they want them." They were as accessible as a cellphone ring tone or an addition to the playlist for your iPod.
"Porn," he said, sticking a plastic cup under the soft drink dispenser, "is just another form of entertainment now."