How Entertainment Conquered Reality Essay

Cultural historian Gabler (An Empire of Their Own, 1988; Winchell, 1994) addresses a favorite subject of the punditocracy—the leaching of entertainment values into every aspect of modern culture—refreshingly, without moralizing. While he admires such forerunners as Richard Schickel (Intimate Strangers, 1985) and Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death, 1985), Gabler shares neither their nostalgia for a mythic past, in which everyone accepted a secure hierarchy of cultural values, nor their slightly hysterical vision of a rapidly approaching future, in which no one will be able to distinguish between reality and fantasy. On the contrary, as Gabler’s sharp, class-conscious analysis of American history persuasively argues, conflict has always occurred between high art and low entertainment: —Sensationalist trash was not a default culture for the intellectually impaired but rather . . . a willful attempt to raze the elitists— high culture and destroy their authority.— This attempt gained strength at the end of the 19th century, when yellow journalism blurred the boundaries between news and sensationalism, and the —Republic of Entertainment— reached its apotheosis with the arrival of movies and then television. Few would argue with Gabler’s broad contention that —everything in the public sphere was now to be measured by entertainment,— as demonstrated in his amusingly acid survey of everything from television news to book publishing to celebrities (and politicians) whose lives are as much a subject for public consumption as their work. His claim that entertainment has become the primary force in ordinary people’s lives rests on shakier ground, though selected examples, like bankrupt small farmers creating agrarian theme parks—and the theatricality of contemporary shopping malls—have considerable bite. One can only applaud Gabler’s understanding that entertainment may empower as well as anesthetize the masses, though the book’s final pages suffer from his adamant refusal to decide which trend is dominant. At times infuriatingly inconclusive, but Gabler is probably right that —there [are] no simple answers, only vitally important issues.—

Life: The Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality3.72 · Rating details ·  307 Ratings  ·  33 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"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 religion and high culture-into one vast public entertainment.

Neal Gabler calls them "lifies," those blockbusters written in the medium of life that dominate the media and the national conversation for weeks, months, even years: the death of Princess Diana, the trial of O.J. Simpson, Kenneth Starr vs. William Jefferson Clinton.  Real Life as Entertainment is hardly a new phenomenon, but the movies, and now the new information technologies, have so accelerated it that it is now the reigning popular art form.  How this came to pass, and just what it means for our culture and our personal lives, is the subject of this witty, concerned, and sometimes eye-opening book....more

Paperback, 320 pages

Published February 29th 2000 by Vintage (first published 1998)

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