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Life: The Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality

3.64 of 5 stars 3.64  ·  rating details  ·  215 ratings  ·  25 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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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
Peter Landau
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
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.
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 4 of 5 stars  ·  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
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
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.
Jon Swerens
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.
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.
AC Shaynower
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 4 of 5 stars
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
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)
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 5 of 5 stars
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.
One of my favorite reads from college.
very interesting.
Aping Neil Postman.
Jeremy added it
Jan 31, 2015
Zainab marked it as to-read
Jan 28, 2015
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Jan 27, 2015
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“...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.” 1 likes
“...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.” 1 likes
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