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Life: The Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality

3.62  ·  Rating Details  ·  244 Ratings  ·  30 Reviews
"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 religi
Paperback, 320 pages
Published February 29th 2000 by Vintage (first published 1998)
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(showing 1-30 of 675)
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Jan 27, 2009 Rickeclectic rated it did not like it
Shelves: about-meaning
Disappointing book. (first a digression: If you are interested in the history of Hollywood, his earlier book: Empire of their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood is long and chatty but definitely worth reading, but this book is not)

Life: The Movie promised to be a thoughtful discussion of how modern individuals have more and more come to value the image they create of themselves rather than "what they really are." His key unstated premise, that there is some "reality" apart from our culturally
Alicia Fox
Apr 05, 2016 Alicia Fox rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I found this enjoyable. Gabler traces (though at times the path is difficult to follow) the history of public performance as a "natural" act in the daily lives of individuals. In some ways, we've always done this; a lifetime of consumption, watching visual entertainment, and projecting ourselves online, has led this behavior to increase.

Gabler illustrates a facet of human behavior which has always irritated me--staging. I'm referring to the person who can't or doesn't cook, but insists on having
Aug 26, 2015 Philip rated it did not like it
An overstretched and outdated look at our relationship with reality and media. Various tics (most irritating: quoting someone famous and then going back and revising their quote to be directly applicable to whatever Gabler is talking about) slow down what is otherwise a competent, if repetitive, writing style. There are better and more incisive books dealing with this material.
Feb 24, 2016 Chris rated it really liked it
Good thesis which experience bears out. While Gabler provides a plethora of examples of how entertainment has infiltrated everything from religion to home decor, I begin to feel as if, perhaps, reality was being stretched in order to fit the model, at times Genuineness doesn't seem to exist for Mr. Gabler. Rather, all of life's elements have been sucked into the Matrix from which there appears to be no escape. Therefore, at times it reads like a monumental conspiracy theory implemented by the ma ...more
Peter Landau
Dec 06, 2013 Peter Landau rated it really liked it
Budd Schulberg wrote that when his novel WHAT MAKES SAMMY RUN? was reissued in the 1980s that he was surprised by the number of fans who loved the book and saw Sammy as a role model to emulate. I feared such a reaction to Neal Gabler's LIFE THE MOVIE: HOW ENTERTAINMENT CONQUERED REALITY, that readers would willingly use it as a blueprint to fantasizing their lives in accordance to Hollywood feel-good blockbusters. By the end of the book, which is descriptive rather than prescriptive, following t ...more
Apr 07, 2014 Tom rated it really liked it
B+/A- -- close to being a perfect book, only I'm iffy about quickly Gabler is to label certain behaviors a performance. The book, as Gabler warns us, is descriptive rather than prescriptive, because one reads and can't help wondering if things are just meant to be this way. Better than anything, it helps us see the images that the movies stain into us, how cinematic each of our fantasies are.
Sep 06, 2011 tim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a huge overview of popular culture history, and as such is useful. If you break it down it can appear like an overly opinionated rehash of many books before it, which it references and from which it quotes freely. These notably include Postman's Amusing Ourselves To Death or Boorstein's The Image. As those books are not really picked up anymore, which is a shame, I assign this to students to get a forceful argument on the dangers of pop-thinking, and provide a decent history of Amer ...more
Mar 05, 2010 Orin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Orin by:
Shelves: ideas
"For the truth is that life on the face of it is a chaos in which one finds oneself lost. The individual suspects as much, but is terrified to encounter this frightening reality face to face, and so attempts to conceal it by drawing a curtain of fantasy over it, behind which he can make believe that everything is clear." (Jose Ortega y Gasset, a well-chosen quote, by the way)

I reread this after hearing Gabler on NPR earlier this week. It holds up very well, especially after American culture has
Oct 10, 2015 Rachel rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfic, 2015reads
At some point after I started using Goodreads, I transferred all my holds and lists of books to read to the site. Some of those books had been on a list since, oh I don't know, 1998, like this one. I think I have to look a little more closely at those books before I get them from the library - 17 years really changes a book on current entertainment culture.

So, it was somewhat of an interesting read when viewed as a snapshot of a particular point in time, but it's so weird reading about life as a
Aug 26, 2009 Tomas rated it really liked it
Interesting, if not totally engrossing, argument. Gabler traces the history of entertainment in America from its roots in the 19th century to today's Internet virtual reality lives. A thoroughly well-documented tome. This is isn't just argument and good rhetoric. It's scholarship too. We learn from this book how each American is the lead actor in his own film script running in his head. At his conclusion, Gabler makes no value judgments on the Disneyfication of reality in America. He merely invi ...more
Dec 31, 2010 Tom rated it liked it
I was spending the night at my in-laws and woke up without a book to read and found this in my wife's pile of old college textbooks. It looked interesting, but Gabler's thesis, that Americans want to be entertained at all times and many treat life like a movie as a coping mechanism, an idea he neither condemns nor condones, seems like a great big "duh" from me. He's not a bad writer, but nothing he had to say seemed all that shocking or even original when you get right down to it.
Just read a little of
Jon Swerens
Aug 27, 2011 Jon Swerens rated it it was ok
After being excited to find this book in a used bookstore, I started reading and kinda got bored with it. His observations on the history of entertainment was interesting and the best part, his reduction of every conflict as some sort of class warfare got very tiring and was extremely simplistic. I technically haven;t finished it yet, but I may never pick it up again after getting through about a third of it.
Apr 15, 2011 Mark rated it really liked it
A cogent if not groundbreaking look at how visual media took over the American popular imagination. Written before the internet happened, the proof of the book's basic thesis that America has become the United States of Entertainment is borne out by the fact that it applies equally well to the digital media Gabler could not have considered at the time of the book's writing.
Aug 15, 2010 AC rated it did not like it
Shelves: books-2010
I picked this book up with the belief that I would get an interesting, deep conversation about entertainment overcoming reality as the preferred way to live. What I got was actually a boring, cynical, snobbish, rant-like narrative on how entertainment is the preferred way to live. As I write this I'm in the last couple dozen pages, but I think I've had enough of it.
Apr 25, 2007 ben rated it really liked it
Neal Gabler is a qualified writer and connects several ideas here. His thesis of America as "the republic of entertainment" is true. I was surprised but enjoyed his lengthy discussed of the development of entertainment in the US since its founding up to the first moving picture. His last chapters should convict anyone of the power of media, especially film, in our culture.
Jun 21, 2010 Clare rated it liked it
While Neal Gabler makes a very interesting point about life as performance and provides an intriguing history of entertainment overtaking American public life in Life: The Movie, his lack of any solution or resolution and his own cynicism hurt an already very dated book.
Sep 21, 2009 Ak. rated it liked it
An interesting (if at times really confusing) look at how America honed it's greatest export: popular culture. (No, Kanye at the VMAs does not make the index). History nerds will rejoice, as well as the average joe with a thirst for pop culture. It's fun academia. I promise.
May 28, 2013 Alisa rated it liked it
Read this in 2013 and constantly reminded myself it was written in 1998. Living 15 years in the future, a lot of the points seem so obvious now. However in its time, it was a rather prescient book in terms of the internet, reality TV, Twitter, etc.
Jul 09, 2008 Adam rated it really liked it
Overblown but informative look at a mediated celebrity-driven culture, and how we have recontextualized life as a movie which we star in, complete with sets, costumes, props and grand narratives.
Jun 21, 2011 Biogeek rated it really liked it
Recommended to Biogeek by: LG
The title says it all, really. (and what a great title). As it turned out, a few years after this was published reality TV took over and the converse book needs to be written now.
Jan 14, 2008 Eric is currently reading it
Bought this 10 years ago but never cracked it. After my 8-year-old came home asking questions when the news of Jamie-Lynn Spears's pregnancy broke, I picked it up again...
Trixie Jean
Jun 14, 2007 Trixie Jean rated it liked it
Sort of terrifying. Made me want to smash my computer to pieces and stop going to the movies. Pretty good, all in all.
Ben Gallman
I really did NOT enjoy reading this book. I felt Gabler's ideas were flimsy. (Just thought it needed to be said)
Aug 16, 2011 Will rated it liked it
Eye opening. The book gets a little dull at times, but the focal points of the book do make a great case
Jeffrey Dinsmore
Mar 29, 2007 Jeffrey Dinsmore rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
This book changed the way I look at the world.
Jun 06, 2008 Jaime marked it as to-read
Recommended in Consumed.
Jan 28, 2008 Dave rated it it was amazing
One of my favorite reads from college.
Jan 30, 2008 Luis rated it really liked it
very interesting.
Jan 04, 2009 X-ray rated it it was ok
Aping Neil Postman.
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“...because television had become the primary means through which people appropriated the world, it promulgated an epistemology in which all information, whatever the source, was forced to become entertainment.” 3 likes
“...the deliberate application of the techniques of theater to politics, religion, education, literature, commerce, warfare, crime, everything, has converted them into branches of show business, where the overriding objective is getting and satisfying an audience.” 2 likes
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