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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Scratches the Surface
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...
Published on May 22, 1999

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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but lacking cohesion
What does one say about a work like this? It's an interesting premise. It's well written. It's provocative. It portrays 99% of America as idiots. And it lacks cohesion - sometimes it reads more like an extended vehicle for the author's liberal ranting and raving about contemporary culture than anything else. Five stars for the premise and the research; one star...
Published on January 21, 1999


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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Scratches the Surface, May 22, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Life, the Movie (Hardcover)
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. He also suggests that popular entertainment and diversion are as American as apple pie with supporting examples of the popularity of the political speech, the Great Awakenings, the Lyceum and Chatauqua.
Most chilling is his description of the two Americas: those who live behind the glass (TV) and those who don't, and how those who don't know that because they don't live behind the glass are lesser citizens. That people fight to obtain some type of stardom, or at the minor forms of celebrity, that CEOs now bestride the world like Hollywood stars of old, that brands now have personalities, are cited as evidence of celebritization of the world. The section of the dark side of celebrity-seeking -- e.g. Mark David Chapman, the Unabomber, and Arthur Bremer -- is effective in showing how these individuals' quest for celebrity was rewarded by the media in wall to wall coverage. The slippage of mainstream media into the gutter once occupied by the tabliods is also of related interest, though it cites the usual examples: e.g. Gary Hart, Monica, O.J.
Gabler's larger point is that all these "lifies" take up space in our collective consciousness, that they distract us, circumscribe our lives by setting norms, casting us in roles, and both limit and expand whom we might be and how we might behave: the affable talk show host, the news anchor, the family man, etc. These norms and role models now live behind the screen, he says. There is no "backstage" where we think our private thoughts and a "frontstage" where we interact with the world. It's all "frontstage." Observe an average Californian for awhile, he suggests. Steeped in movie and entertainment culture, they have no "backstage."
Gabler cites evidence that those who have ability to positively delude themselves, to "act" as if they are the center of our own postively scripted, headed- toward-a-happy-ending movie, do better in their lives and occupations. He notes that Prozac's popularity may be connected with this phenomenon. All in all a good, solid, and dare it be said, "entertaining" book.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Read it and you'll never see things the same way again!, August 10, 2000
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This review is from: Life, the Movie (Hardcover)
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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars splendid essay on the necessity of keeping your attention, September 24, 2007
By 
Robert J. Crawford (Balmette Talloires, France) - See all my reviews
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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. Zsa Zsa Gabor as a "personality of glamour" - but also to a transmogrification of the news and even politics, particularly with Ronald Reagan. Rather than pondering complex issues, Gabler believes, the public now wants flashy stories, mood, and outsized personality. As such, he posits, Reagan could say it was "morning in America" while ignoring pressing issues, keeping the public lulled - diverting them - by spin and PR. This Gabler sees as a significant problem in our body politic and I would agree: who doesn't feel disgusted with the way the news media examines politics as a horse race rather than help to analyse the problems that politics should solve? As Gabler says, what reporters tend to report on is how campaign tactics get people to react. It is a bore.

In another example, Gabler tells the story of when doing a story on Christie Brinkley's lifestyle in her new Long Island house, House Beautiful journalists arrived to discover that she had not yet moved in or even decorated it. No problem! Without her approval, they hired an interioir decorator to "do it" for the interview photographs, and Brinkley liked it so much that she kept it. That is what readers, in Gabler's view, would take for a reality to model their own lives on!!

Or alternatively, we get celebrities "writing" books (with a little help from expert word smiths) that get attention because they are who they are rather than what they have to say. You even find public intellectuals taking outrageous positions because it will get them attention, as Gabler argues Camille Paglia has done with her attacks on feminism. In my reading, this is what gets thinkers like Steven Pinker to argue that parents have no impact WHATSOEVER on their children's personalities, whom he argues both learn more from their peers and whose behavior is primarily genetically determined. That argument is outrageous to parents, but it gets him ample media attention. The issues, even the truth, are secondary to entertainment value in this view.

To conclude, Gabler argues that we are all now seeking to create lives that are entertaining, drawing our own narrative in a kind of "mediated self"; the sources of these, he says, are film, celebrity journalism, and over-hyped "news". Reality, in his view, matters less than the idea one can make and maintain of one's life story; while this flatly contradicts Frued's "reality principle", perhaps it is possible now for people who live in a bubble of affluence.

Of couse, my description cannot do justice to the subtlty and elegance of Gabler's argument. This is extremely heady intellectual stuff. While I believe that he takes the argument too far as intellectuals often do when creating a new metaphor, the book is so dense with ideas and frankly so right on the money that it is worth a careful read.

For example, in my own work researching business, this argument is extremely relevant. I have been in many companies whose marketing strategy is to develop a kind of narrative for the consumer to enter, either to imagine they belong to some "tribe", or as a feeling of taking part in something bigger than themselves, or simply a series of products that evolve as a story progresses. For example, Ducati is making motorcyles that recall the company's past glory in races: they are still excellent bikes, but they also evoke an experience of belonging to a story, complete with accessories, the periodic appearence of Ducati bikes in films, etc. This is also true of Disney self-reinforcing multimedia marketing (characters in film and parks = buzz, which sells toys), LEGO's bionicles, Alessi's quirky appliances that bring art into the home, and any number of other companies: they are in part manufacturing an alternative reality, an experience (of entertainment), that is to be found in how we describe ourselves to ourselves.

This book has allowed me to articulate this to myself in a new way, though I must sift through the ideas in my own mind over time. I am sure that anyone interested in culture, politics, or business will feel the same way once they have read this book. This is delicious brain food.

Warmly recommended as an outstanding intellectual adventure. This is a masterful essay that consolidates a huge range of research, including updates of Neil Postman, Marhall McLuhan, Daniel Boorsten and many others. His prose is unusually dense and vivid. A final thing that I should add is that, while Gabler is very critical about these developments, he states very clearly that he wants to stimulate debate rather than offer prescriptions - he admits he has none.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Witty, Profound, Terse, September 11, 2005
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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 unfulfilled fantasies. His thesis is that we have become actors, either unconsciously or not, and that as such events are contrived and/or interpreted as being "cinamatic." We all want to be the stars of the movie, that which is life.

Another important theme is that entertainment has trumped substantive knowledge in the media currency so that we are well entertained but grossly underinformed.

He quotes from and praises Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death, a fine companion piece to Gabler's Life: The Movie.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pillar to understanding society, November 27, 2002
By 
J. L. Harmon (Tampa, FL United States) - See all my reviews
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Along with Paul Fussel's Class, these books are provocative views of modern society. Like "Class", Gabler doesn't really tell you anything that you don't really know but he does lay it out in a manner that I, at least, had never considered deeply. In doing so, he revealed a weakness that I recognize in myself and in much of the people in this society. Weakness? Gabler doesn't judge. He presents the case and steps back but there is some amount of consternation. How else can you view it? When a person's life becomes nothing more than fulfilling a part in the play? Is that good? Or is it the natural outcome of a society that finds itself more and more removed from the constraints of Mother Nature?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Either you're a star or a nobody, March 10, 2010
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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. He has a rare talent for social commentary. Extremely well researched and organized. If you're up to the cerebral challenge, go for it.

The thesis begins with an interesting history lesson about entertainment. Life was particularly dull on the farm in the 19th Century. After people moved to the cities, they had time to sit down and get entertained. Movies became America's preferred entertainment pastime. Newspapers morphed into tabloid journalism. Tabloid journalism morphed into television. Eventually reality took a backseat to entertainment on television.

The 20th Century's biggest contribution to Art was the invention of the "Celebrity". Celebrities are "famous for being famous". Today we increasingly see professionals - lawyers, engineers, architects, doctors and scientists - vying for celebrity status in their fields. Even inanimate products - Coca-Cola, Nike, Microsoft's Windows - have been "celebritized".

We are social animals, adopting the roles that society gives us. Movies and TV present models for dressing, talking and behaving. There are social pressures placed on us to conform to these standards. However, the standards of people shown on "the other side of the glass" are warped and unrealistic. Many people think that their lives are failures if they don't become a celebrity.

Gabler makes no conclusions, leaving it to the readers. He does make a brilliant analysis of the philosophical dilemma facing each of us: To seek reality or delusion. Studies have concluded that, from a mental health standpoint, those who live with happy delusions, however unrealistic, seem to live happier lives. Since the 19th Century, there has been a shifting of values from pragmatic realism to a culture that accepts and embraces delusions. These polar opposite viewpoints are the basis of disputing opinions on many issues.

This book reminds of another I read many years ago, "The Birth and Death of Meaning", by Ernest Becker, one of my personal heroes. I've circled so many gem phrases in "Life" I will never be able to re-sell my copy.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but lacking cohesion, January 21, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Life, the Movie (Hardcover)
What does one say about a work like this? It's an interesting premise. It's well written. It's provocative. It portrays 99% of America as idiots. And it lacks cohesion - sometimes it reads more like an extended vehicle for the author's liberal ranting and raving about contemporary culture than anything else. Five stars for the premise and the research; one star for the sniping and heckling.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful, July 27, 2013
By 
Roger Barnett (Newport, RI USA) - See all my reviews
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It a bit outdated now, but it has all the elements necessary to understand the entertainment culture. Should be read and reflected upon.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Very clever and entertaining, May 27, 2012
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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, from the arts to Ideas, has become a movie and entertainment.
I highly recommend this work for anyone interested in the media and theories of film and fame.
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Life, the Movie
Life, the Movie by Neal Gabler (Hardcover - November 10, 1998)
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