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The New Gilded Age
ISBN 0375757155 / 9780375757150 / 0-375-75715-5Find This Book
The New Yorker caters to America's upper classes; it's the kind of magazine meant to be accompanied by a glass of pricey Merlot. Over the years its elitism has waxed and waned. Ex-editor Tina Brown worked valiantly to inject a dose of pop-cultural crassness into its ivory-tower sensibilities: profiling celebrities and publishing fashion issues where models stared out from every page, looking chilly. When David Remnick took over in the late '90s, the magazine shifted, grew quieter and more circumspect, and the old guard breathed a collective sigh of relief.
The New Gilded Age collects essays and profiles from 1999 and 2000 and reveals Remnick's New Yorker to be obsessed with money and business--arguably less interesting than celebrity, but also deeper ways of looking at America and power. The title refers to the period of technological revolution symbolized by the rise of Microsoft, the booming of Silicon Valley, and the end of the belief that an Ivy League education will get you anywhere.
What's admirable about this New Yorker is its timeliness; the way, without seeming like a panicked "edge" magazine, it managed to document and acknowledge the shifting sands of the millennial moment. Standouts in this regard: William Finnegan on the protesters behind the 1999 WTO riots in Seattle; Ken Auletta following Bill Gates through various meltdowns as he comes to terms with the federal government's antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft. These are painstakingly reported pieces in which style is submerged. The more audacious writers tend to be women. In "Everywoman.com," Joan Didion describes Martha Stewart in a flood of rapt lyricism:
This is not a story about a woman who made the best of traditional skills. This is a story about a woman who did her own I.P.O. This is the "woman's pluck" story, the dust-bowl story, the burying-your-child-on-the-trail story, the I-will-never-go-hungry-again story, the Mildred Pierce story, the story about how the sheer nerve of even professionally unskilled women can prevail, show the men; the story that has historically encouraged women in this country, even as it has threatened men.In "Landing from the Sky," Adrian Nicole LeBlanc creates a portrait of a young Puerto Rican woman with too many kids and too much trouble. The writing here is exquisite and passionate: "Jessica created an aura of intimacy wherever she went. You could be talking to her in the middle of Tremont and feel as if a confidence were being exchanged beneath a tent of sheets."
Jessica's story seems far from the world of The New Yorker's target audience. When in "My Misspent Youth" Meghan Daum laments her poverty and credit card debt, then reveals she lives alone in a $1,500-a-month apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side, you have to wonder: Did the poor thing ever hear of roommates? As both a document and celebration of such rarefied and privileged attitudes, The New Gilded Age is a rich, informative glimpse into America at the turn of the millennium--before the NASDAQ crashed and the dot-com kids went home to count their losses. --Emily White [via]