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Life: The Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality [Kindle Edition]

Neal Gabler
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)

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Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

"A thoughtful, in places chilling, account of the way entertainment values have hollowed out American life." --The New York Times Book Review

From one of America's most original cultural critics and the author of Winchell, the story of how our bottomless appetite for novelty, gossip, glamour, and melodrama has turned everything of importance-from news and politics to religion and high culture-into one vast public entertainment.

Neal Gabler calls them "lifies," those blockbusters written in the medium of life that dominate the media and the national conversation for weeks, months, even years: the death of Princess Diana, the trial of O.J. Simpson, Kenneth Starr vs. William Jefferson Clinton.  Real Life as Entertainment is hardly a new phenomenon, but the movies, and now the new information technologies, have so accelerated it that it is now the reigning popular art form.  How this came to pass, and just what it means for our culture and our personal lives, is the subject of this witty, concerned, and sometimes eye-opening book.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews Review

In Life the Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality, Neal Gabler traces the evolution of high and low culture in American society through the 19th and 20th centuries, and describes how low-brow entertainment became so influential in the United States. This is his central argument: "It is not any ism but entertainment that is arguably the most pervasive, powerful, and ineluctable force of our time--a force so overwhelming that it has finally metastasized into life." Although Gabler uses the word "metastasized," he doesn't seem to regard infotainment as a cancer that is destroying our society, but rather as something that grows rapidly and certainly worthy of close study.

The scope of Gabler's investigation extends far beyond the movies to publishing, television news, paint brands, fashion--anything that seems to have been transformed by the national passion for low-brow entertainment. Along the way, Gabler raises a series of intriguing questions: Why do some people feel more passionately about celebrities than about their own loved ones? Why is Donald Trump a celebrity? Why was the broadcast of the 1996 Olympics packed with so many biopics that the sporting events seemed afterthoughts? Why does Ralph Lauren call the blue paint he sells "Lap Pool Blue"?

Movies promote the fantasy that there are simple narrative solutions for all of life's problems. Movies are full of sex, scandal, gossip, and action. If our lives were movies, they would be more full of what Zsa Zsa Gabor once called "enchanting make-believe." In this book, Gabler demonstrates how this fantasy has shaped our society. --Jill Marquis

From Publishers Weekly

Even before the first tabloids began hawking true-crimes stories and trashy melodramas to 19th-century readers, mass entertainment had cast a spell over American life. How that spell has been magnified to such an extent that entertainment is now "the most pervasive, powerful and ineluctable force of our time" is the subject of Gabler's slashing, sometimes dubious, critique. "Entertainment" for Gabler (Winchel: Gossip, Power and the Culture of Celebrity) is virtually any kind of public fantasy or performance that, in contrast to high art, serious thought or gritty reality, is meant to appeal to the widest possible audience. America has become an "Entertainment Republic," he writes, in which lives are lived for the media, events are staged for the media and no public institution is uninfected by the "ebola virus" of mass entertainment. Gabler has a keen eye for the absurd detritus of cultural history; he skillfully interweaves events as different as the murder of Helen Jewett in 1836 and the ongoing Clinton scandals (both are "lifies," media spectacles "written in the medium of life"), and individuals as different as Buffalo Bill Cody, who rode into battle in Hollywood costume, and the surgically reconfigured Michael Jackson, "a posthuman for the era of postreality." This is no linear history, however, but a grab bag of ideas and events, larded with citations to a huge array of critical thinkers (e.g., Daniel Boorstin, Marshall McLuhan, Neil Postman). Entertainment is certainly a handy concept to explain how the media has changed how we live and think. But readers will find Gabler's tendency to boil American history down to this one master narrative reductive to be an often fascinating but far from persuasive trip down a rabbit hole of cultural theory.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 473 KB
  • Print Length: 322 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0375706534
  • Publisher: Vintage (April 27, 2011)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004FGMR9M
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #676,928 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Scratches the Surface May 22, 1999
By A Customer
Neal Gabler merely scratches the surface as he describes the integration of media and entertainment into 20th Century culture, particularly 20th Century American culture. Gabler concedes at the outset that the book is diagnostic rather than prescriptive and he leaves few suggestions and little hope for a cure. The most disturbing part of the book is the final chapter, entitled The Mediated Self, in which he illustrates the degree to which many people have come to define their lives in terms of entertainment value.
Parts of the book are priceless. One should read it with a highlighter or a pencil and capture the more descriptive gems for future attribution. As an example, describing the propensity of '80's and `90's middle class Americans to videotape family events:
"Weddings, baby showers, bar mitzvahs . . . even surgeries, all of which had traditionally been undramatic, if occasionally unruly, affairs, were now frequently reconfigured as shows for the video camera complete with narratives and entertaining set pieces throughout. Sometimes a hastily edited version of the tape, complete with musical soundtrack and effects added to boost its entertainment value higher still, would be shown at the climax of the occasion as if the entire purpose of the celebration had really been to tape it."
One senses that Gabler, taking leads from Marshall McLuhan, Neil Postman, Richard Schickel . . . even Andy Warhol, is on to something very big, if not overarching. Gabler deals with the subject in a mere 244 easily read pages, but I was left wanting more and feeling that the subject had been dealt with somewhat superficially. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to anyone who can stand to add to their level of cynicism.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "When I Crashed the Car It Was Just Like a Movie!" February 4, 2004
A good, often acid analysis of "entertainment state," Gabler's main thesis is that under the influence of the movies and the concomitant rise of the consumptionism, we have created an entertainment state where everyone is constantly considering how their performance is going -- which amounts to a new kind of discipline as Foucauldians might say. Further, these "roles" require props (material goods), which in turn supports the consumer society and the entertainment state at the expense of nearly everything else. To lay the basis for his theorectical claim, he cites the early 1960s thinking on the phenomenon of celebrity and the changes it has wrought in the American psyche. Here cites Boorstin's "The Image," and Riesman's "The Lonely Crowd." But he's not averse to cites postmodernists to serve his thesis, Umberto Eco, and Baudrillard come in for brief insights, too.
Some might say Gabler overstates his case. Have we really become so infused with "lifies" projected at us on a billion screens that we no longer know where we begin and where we end? Compared to the post-mods who can't resist hyperbole and grand gestures, though, he grounds his case historically, culturally and economically. Moving from a quick periodization of the rise of mass entertainment in the U.S. in conjunction with Jacksonian era during which elitist amusements were challanged and overthrown -- in 1849 29 b'hoys in NYC were killed during a riot where protested the English actor MacCready's reading of Shakepeare as a disparagement of the American style of Edwin Forrest -- he shows how entertainment has always been contested terrain.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is simply incredible. A more stimulating book I couldn't imagine! It's not that it told me so much I didn't know intuitively, but seeing it written so distinctly in black and white really hit home. This is one to read if you really want to get a sense of just how dramatically the world has changed. Neal Gabler, tells it like he sees it and has a lot of research to back up his views. I love that he doesn't make judgements or try to press an opinion on the reader. It's left up to you to decide how you feel about it all. I find myself thinking of points he brought up throught the day and seeing just what he meant by experiencing it in "real" life. The only reason I didn't give it a 5 is because I wish it was a bit MORE in-depth. It's so engaging that I can imagine an entire college course being made from this book. It is a book that's as entertaining as it is informative, and that's the whole point.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars splendid essay on the necessity of keeping your attention September 24, 2007
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is an absolutely fascinating look at the notion of entertainment, as it evolved as a form of popular culture into a political and even life compulsion. From the beginning, I was rivetted by Gabler's wonderful writing and unusual ideas. You can read this many times to great profit.

Gabler begins with a definition of what entertainment is: as opposed to the high art tradition, which requires elite education and effort to "get" it (e.g. to "properly appreciate" Opera), entertainment emerged as a democratic impulse soon after the beginning of the 19th century. Rather than high brow fare for esthetes, entertainment brought an immediate sensation of pleasure to the masses and a sense of losing oneself in a story without preparation. WIth the development of technology, Gabler continues, entertainment entered the news, particularly as images, but also as exciting stories, first in the penny press and then in film and finally TV. The penny press brought news to the masses at a price it could afford, largely replacing the elitist partisan editorials that cost 5 times as much in Jefferson's day. The trick was finding the right hook for less educated audiences, to get them into a narrative with which they could identify personally. This history is told in splendid detail, in a well spring of ideas that makes the reader (or at least me) want to research a lot more into this.

From popular culture, Gabler then argues that the need for entertainment created a kind of bizarre feedback loop, according to which it must be manufactured, even when it does not exist. That means that reality is made to fit the story, not the other way round. This leads not only directly to celebrity - those who are famous for being famous more than for having accomplished anything, e.g.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars I highly recommend this book
I highly recommend this book. Have you wondered how the entertainment world of "make-believe" conquered REAL LIFE? Read more
Published 2 months ago by Beverly Enderlein
5.0 out of 5 stars No, you are not crazy.
Fresh air for the person who sometimes thinks, is it me, or is something askew almost everywhere I look? Read more
Published 2 months ago by Francois
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful
It a bit outdated now, but it has all the elements necessary to understand the entertainment culture. Should be read and reflected upon.
Published 17 months ago by Roger Barnett
3.0 out of 5 stars good
Wish it was on audio that i can listen to it and read it at the same time but this semester is going to be long hard semester.
Published 23 months ago by Theran Booth
5.0 out of 5 stars Very clever and entertaining
I have little to add to the other good reviews, only that I give it 5 stars, for the entertainment value, the good research and the interesting argument he keeps up, that life,... Read more
Published on May 27, 2012 by Martijn13Maart1970
4.0 out of 5 stars We are what we pretend to be... or are we?
Some books cause double takes. They thrust reality into a whiplash for which the only sane reaction remains re-evaluation. Read more
Published on November 27, 2011 by ewomack
5.0 out of 5 stars Either you're a star or a nobody
This short book is jammed packed with great ideas and beautifully coined phrases. Neal Gabler has synthesized an analysis of how entertainment has influenced our lives. Read more
Published on March 10, 2010 by Karl J. Hanson
4.0 out of 5 stars Gabler's take on life
Gabler lays out his controversial opinions about culture in America very clearly in this book. You may disagree or agree with him, but the book is worth reading either way. Read more
Published on September 19, 2005 by Paul J.
5.0 out of 5 stars Witty, Profound, Terse
Gabler has written about an age where collective narcissism finds its outlet in a culture where cinema represents our highest reality, where the movie screen projects all our... Read more
Published on September 11, 2005 by M. JEFFREY MCMAHON
2.0 out of 5 stars Another flop of a Life
Remarkable and lamentable by what it manages to ignore this work
is more an example of what it tries to describe than an implement
for its understanting! Read more
Published on February 12, 2003 by Joao Leao
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