This is Your Life

Very few people understand your world better than Neal Gabler. His new book, “Life: The Movie” (Knopf, $25) provides a fascinating historical and cultural analysis of something you have probably long sensed to be true: our world is being taken over by entertainment.

From O.J. and Lewinsky to Tonya Harding and Joey Buttafuocco, from presidential elections to nightly news, titillation has supplanted seriousness, amusement has trumped gravity. News itself has been usurped by a succession of what Gabler calls, “lifies,” stories like Lewinsky and Harding that are part real-life, part media-generated movie.

Pop culture has been toying with Gabler’s Big Idea for a while now in movies like “The Truman Show” and “Pleasantville,” but Gabler provides amply researched perspective. He chronicles the bloody moment in American history when art and entertainment irrevocably clashed and diverged, then zeroes in on how the creation of the motion picture ultimately brought the conventions of cinematic storytelling to real life. Gabler, author of the seminal, “An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood,” is well-aware of the irony here: struggling European immigrants created fictions on celluloid of an idealized American life. The fictions have been so powerful that we have re-created real life in the image of these stories.

In an interview with The Journal from his Amagansett, N.Y., home, Gabler the critic is quick to analyze, yet slower to despise these developments. He watches as his two young daughters eagerly create their lives to reflect what they see on-screen — the clothes, the lingo — and he himself is an avid consumer of this year’s Lifie, the Lewinsky story. “I’m addicted to it,” he says. “It’s good entertainment.”

But what concerns him is the flight from seriousness in what passes for political coverage, and the fact that entertainment is a juggernaut that just will ultimately dominate every world culture. “Entertainment is so inexorably and irresistible a form that virtually nothing can withstand it,” he says. The appeal is so powerful, he posits, it might even be biological.

“Maybe it’s a Darwinian adaptation, maybe it helps us survive.”

Gabler will speak at the Skirball Cultural Center, Tuesday, Dec. 1 at 7:30 p.m. For tickets, call (323) 660-8587.