In fact, American mass-entertainment culture does not reflect America or Americans properly or fully, and the reason has to do with the size of the mass.
There is a sign from yesterday that you can see from the train as it passes through Trenton, New Jersey: TRENTON MAKES—THE WORLD TAKES. Trenton doesn't make much of anything that matters anymore. Entertainment is what we make now, entertainment and its spinoff product, celebrity. In 2000 the categories of industry defined by the government as television and radio, motion pictures, and amusement and recreation accounted for $187.9 billion, or 1.9 percent, of the gross domestic product. Printing and publishing added another $105.5 billion, for another 1.1 percent. Altogether, these industries accounted for three percent of a GDP of $9.9 trillion. By comparison, all of farming, agricultural ser-vices, forestry, and fishing amounted to 1.4 percent of the GDP; motor vehicles and equipment were worth 1.2 percent; primary metal industries amounted to 0.5 percent; fabricated metal products accounted for 1.1 percent; petroleum and coal products were worth 0.4 percent; textile-mill products were good for 0.3 percent; and tobacco products contributed 0.2 percent.
Ninety-eight percent of American households, or 106 million, are equipped with a television set; 69.4 percent of these have cable, and there are 287 national cable channels; 91 percent have VCRs. Each year the U.S. film industry puts out at least 500 feature movies, of which fewer than half are released to be shown on any of the 37,000 screens in the United States. Most of the rest go direct to cable or home video. Increasingly, almost everything makes its way to an ever growing international market. In 1996 international sales of entertainment and software products passed $60 billion, bringing more money into America than any other U.S. goods. English-language films (almost all American) take in 60 to 65 percent of a global box office that in 2001 amounted to more than $18 billion.
Two obvious points arise here. The first is that the American fascination with the products of the U.S. entertainment-celebrity complex reflects the fact that these products are the most important things America produces for sale. When we dominated the world automobile industry, we cared a lot about new car lines. Now we dominate the world celebrity business, and we care a lot about new celebrity lines. This is merely rational. The business of America is business, and the business of America is entertainment—which no one else in the world produces as we do.
The second point is that with this kind of mass, there is literally no accounting for taste. Everything the American industry makes, it makes not for "the market" but for one or another specific segment of a market that is global, growing like mad, and ever fractioning into submarkets. There is no such thing as American taste—there is the 27 percent of the population that goes to the movies at least once a month, but there is also the 30 percent that never goes to the movies. There is the under-thirty market, whose sensibilities dictate content ... But wait—this group is increasingly losing in importance to the foreign market, whose sensibilities increasingly dominate ... But wait—there is no one foreign market; there are ten major ones, and they have different tastes too. And some of them are really shockingly low. (Have you seen English tabloids lately?) America makes, the world takes—and America makes what the world wants to take.