Entertaining America by J. Hoberman and Jeffrey Shandler

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Our member Cathy Weiner writes:

Entertaining America, by J. Hoberman and Jeffrey Shandler, is a consolidated history of the Entertainment Industry in this country from the turn of the twentieth century until 2003. While most of us are familiar with the enormous contribution of Jews to this industry, this book actually takes the reader through a step-by-step history of the direct involvement and creation of this industry from the days of the nickelodeon to modern day television.

Much of this began in the Lower East side of New York City, an area filled with immigrants in the early 1900’s. It began as inexpensive entertainment and was considered low class.  Early Jewish moguls elevated the status of movies over the next few years until it became an acceptable form of entertainment for all people. It’s hard to imagine all this was going on prior to the invention of talking motion pictures.

The book constantly brings up the question of why so much of the industry has been dominated by Jews; however, the question is never quite answered. Instead, it is left to the reader’s opinion.  In fact, the reader is also left with underlying questions such as why did so many Jewish actors assimilate into the society, almost forgetting their Jewish heritage or being willing to play characters that promoted the typical negative Jewish stereotypes. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on movies that changed and/or reinforced the Jewish stereotype in America, which included movies such as The Graduate, Goodbye Columbus, and Portnoy’s Complaint; movies made at a time when my generation was struggling for new identities. There are commentaries by other authors included, making this large volume of history informative and interesting.  Furthermore, it is broken well into various sections, making it the kind of book one can read piece by piece over a period of time.