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.