1848: When America Came of Age

Our first high-tech, new-media, urban-pop-culture, go-go moment

Image by Bettmann/CORBIS

The Mexican War: The Battle of Buena Vista, Feb. 23, 1847. Undated hand-tinted 19th-century lithograph.

Miraculous new communications technologies have suddenly appeared, transforming everyday life. Everything is moving discombobulatingly fast. Globalization accelerates. Wall Street booms. Outside San Francisco, astounding fortunes are made overnight, out of nothing, by plucky nobodies. The new media are scurrilous and partisan. Marketing spin and advertising extend their influence as never before. A fresh urban-youth subculture has emerged, rude and vibrant, entertainment-fixated and violence-glorifying. Christian conservatives are furiously battling cultural decadence, and one popular sect insists that the end days are nigh. Ferocious anti-immigration sentiment is on the rise. Both major American political parties seem pathetically unable to deal with the looming,...

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