Abstract: Neal Gabler, Life the Movie

5 Nov

New School University, Media Studies, Fall 2008

Neal Gabler, Life the Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality, First Vintage Books Edition, March 2000, Copyright 1998 by Neal Gabler


Neal Gabler examines life itself and how it has been consumed by popular culture and become a series of public and personal life movies, where the world is the stage set and life is a performance. Gabler describes the process by which media and entertainment have seamlessly integrated themselves into American culture, and consequently how everything in the public sphere is now measure by its entertainment value.

Gabler traces this cultural revolution from the beginnings of American history, citing events and quoting headlines from media coverage of the day and the steady integration of entertainment as a means of escape from the problems of daily life. From pure print to print with pictures, to radio and television, and eventually the movies, the progression seems a natural fulfillment of people’s desire to be entertained. But Gabler marks a clear distinction in movies which feeds and provides the medium for an escapist celebrity saturated culture. Rather than simply escaping for the duration of a movie, people have made their lives movies, with everyone as their own main character while the media portrays life as an ever playing movie with its cast of celebrities from all walks of life: politics, Hollywood, athletes, arts, business, and other fields.

By citing media headlines from America’s past as well as recalling more recent historical events such as the Gulf War, the OJ Simpson trial, Bill Clinton, and the death of Diana Princess of Wales, Gabler provides a solid cultural and historical background for his argument. Referencing media critics and analysts such as Neil Postman, Richard Schickel, and Marshall McLuhan, to name just a few, Gabler connects their theories and embellishes their arguments. The clear chronological progression that the narrative takes as Gabler describes America’s media history parallel to the current events and popular culture of the time also support Gabler’s argument by showing the steady growth of entertainment in society.

The consequence of life as a movie, where entertainment trumps reality, is a remapping of consciousness, values, and identity. Life is measured up to the movies where immediacy and instant gratification without thought or effort is what drives and motivates society. Substance and quality aren’t necessarily prized, rather entertainment and reaction are considered most valuable. But most disturbing is people’s sense of identity where life and one’s self is mediated and played out as a role in a movie. Gabler argues that we have become our own celebrities.

One is left to puzzle over the current state of a post-reality American popular culture as Gabler provides no solution to the problem he presents. Rather he provides a very broad and expansive overview of the supersaturated entertainment media of the time and shows us the path America took to arrive at such a state.

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