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Arts, Creativity Are Huge U.S. Exports

Some of the pop culture America exports is cringe-worthy but it’s lucrative.

Back in 1984 when I was living in Ireland for several months, I was asked by a teacher friend to speak to his class of inner-city Dublin kids.

The students were middle-school age and came from poor families whose parents had limited education. When you asked these children about America, there were two places they knew without fail: New York City and Hollywood.

They recognized New York because half their relatives lived there and they knew Hollywood because of all the American movies and TV shows they watched. 

Now as then, pop culture is one of our biggest exports. The movies, television and music industries make billions of dollars every year, which is one of the reasons intellectual property and piracy issues are so important to the United States.

Film director James Cameron alone could be considered one of the titans of American industry based on two movies. His film  “Avatar” made more than $1 billion worldwide, including about $220 million in China, and “Titanic” made upwards of $1.8 billion.

Likewise, Steven Spielberg’s movies are estimated to have made more than $8 billion while employing or helping to employ thousands of people.

Of course, some of the arts and culture the U.S. exports are truly cringe-worthy.  The reality show “Jersey Shore” with foul-mouthed women and men wallowing in drunken brawls and decadent self-absorption must be a great recruiting tool for Jihadist U. It's depressing to think that Snooki is one of our cultural ambassadors to the world.

I bring all this up because some commenters on two previous implied that college students who are have only themselves to blame if they study subjects, such as the performing arts or journalism, that won’t make them a lot of money when they graduate.

And recently, The Daily Beast, a news and opinion web site, ran a feature headlined “The 13 Most Useless Majors,” which included theater, music, graphic design and fine arts. I majored in two of the 13 – English and political science – and work in a third, journalism. Count on me to specialize in worthless knowledge and skills. 

And yet. Though my career has had ups and downs, I’ve never regretted that I didn’t become, say, a nurse – which would have made me infinitely more employable. Patients throughout the land should thank their lucky stars that I’m not at the foot of their hospital bed saying, “Now where the heck did I put that chart?”

American manufacturing, which was on the ropes for so long, appears to be making a comeback and that’s great news. And Patch commenters are right that students going into the fields of science, technology, engineering and math have a better shot at making a lucrative living than most fine arts majors or actors or writers. It's telling that the term “starving artist” has its own Wikipedia page; “starving computer scientist” does not. 

But as someone whose family prefers to spend money on experiences – movies, travel, books, meals and plays – than on clothes or home furnishings or other “stuff,” I’d hate for artists and authors to be dismissed as somehow less valuable Americans than those people who make material things for a living. I could live a happy life if I never bought another set of dishes or pair of high-heel shoes; I’d be inconsolable if I never got to read another book. 

Jonathan Gerard June 08, 2012 at 05:29 PM
It is a typical fallacy of logic to compare the best of one thing with the worst of something else--say, for example, the best Republican initiative in the last 50 years with the worst Democratic one, and then conclude that Republicans are better. It would be like saying "Catholics did the Spanish Inquisition but Israelis set up the best hospitals in Haiti after the earthquake, so Judaism cares more about human life." You could just as easily have compared the value of Picasso's "Guernica" to the creation of Thalidomide and concluded that artists do more to save human life than drug manufacturers and doctors. We'll all get along better when we look for the best in each field, in each profession, each person. Someone who calls him- or herself "Incredibly Wise" is most likely not. Why did you publish what you are "more impressed with"? Why should anyone but your mother care what "impresses" you? Readers deserve reasonable discussions--not false or unfounded assertions and silly logic. Study what you want, where you want--especially the public library. But don't tell other people they should act or think like you--incredibly wise, indeed.
Jonathan Gerard June 08, 2012 at 05:43 PM
Another undocumented and unfounded opinion. Protecting the environment saves lives as well as jobs. See: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/05/business/economy/a-debate-arises-on-job-creation-vs-environmental-regulation.html?pagewanted=all And also, from MIT: http://18.7.29.232/bitstream/handle/1721.1/50210/35720982.pdf?sequence=1 Environmental degradation kills people, especially babies who are more sensitive to toxic waste. The cancer epidemic is related to the unregulated polluting of our environment. These are not assertions; they are documented facts which many choose to ignore. But it is a false assertion to state that protecting the environment costs jobs. It creates jobs. It saves lives. And industry has almost never done this voluntarily.
Liberalism is a mental disorder June 12, 2012 at 06:21 PM
Jonathan... a bunch of bunk... people live longer now then ever. Cancer up? Ya, when everybody lives to 90, that will happen. We have one of the highest infant mortality rates around, and the highest number of environmental regulations. So much for you toxic waste theory.
Liberalism is a mental disorder June 12, 2012 at 06:25 PM
Virtually everything you post is liberal drivel. To suppor your facts, you post liberal trash websites. At to Guernica... humm... that did a great job stopping the Nazis, didn't it? No, what stopped them was good old fashioned engineering and production. Your arguments are so hilarious. As to why anybody but my mother should care, why should anybody but your mother care? Again, total stupidity on your part.... you ramble on about how art is the highest form of human expression (your opinion) then suggest my opinion should only matter to my mother. Good grief, you crack me up.
Liberalism is a mental disorder June 12, 2012 at 06:28 PM
No, all doctors make a living being a doctor, and pay off their school loans being a doctor. 1% of people who study art make their living in art, and the rest work at Wendy's and bitch about their student loans, and how unfair they are. That's the difference. "Art is redeeming. Making art brings a satisfaction and a sense of meaning to life that making money does not." Speaking for yourself? Is this your opinion? Why should anybody care about your opinion? See how stupid that sounds... see your post below. Argghhhhhh.

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