There is an experiment I'd love to conduct. I'd like to survey a cross-section of Americans and ask them how many active NBA players, Major League Baseball players, and American Idol finalists they can name.
Then I'd ask them how many living American poets, playwrights, painters, sculptors, architects, classical musicians, conductors, and composers they can name.
I'd even like to ask how many living American scientists or social thinkers they can name.
So I'm going to take this test. (Note to make it fair, the athletes and American Idol finalists must also be living Americans.)
Active American NBA players: Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, Dwayne Wade, Tim Duncan, Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, Stephon Marsbury, Steve Francis, Carmelo Anthony
Active American MLB players: Alex Rodriguez, Curt Schilling, Greg Maddux, Derek Jeter, Barry Bonds, Tim Linceum, Barry Zito, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Mike Piezza
American idol finalists: Fantasia
Living American poets: Allen Ginsburg, Robert Pinsky, (unfortunately T.S. Eliot is already dead)
Living American playwrights: (unfortunately August Wilson died and Tom Stoppard is not American)
Living American painters: ummm.... (I think Georgia O'Keefe and Jackson Pollack are dead already)
Living American sculptors: Maya Lin (there was this Guggenheim exhibit I went to featuring a sculptor but I can't remember his name)
Living American architects: I.M. Pei (Frank Lloyd Wright is long dead)
Living American classical musicians, conductors, composers: Michael Tilson Thomas, Yo-Yo Ma, Joshua Bell, Sarah Chang, van Cliburn, Wynton Marsalis
Living American scientists: Barbara McClintock, Bruce Alberts, (can't think of any American chemists), physicists: Alan Guth, Sean Carroll, Kip Thorne, Edward "Rocky" Kolb, Frank Wilczek, Bob Jaffe, Washington Taylor IV, Ed Witten, Peter Fisher, John arris, John Joannopoulos, Matthew Fisher, Dan Fisher, Leon Balents, Phil Anderson, Steve Girvin, Doug Stone, Sohrab Ismail-Beigi, Eric Hudson, Don Eigler, Mike Crommie, Paul McEuen, Rob Schoelkopf, Dan Prober, Sean Barrett, Jack Harris, Dave DeMille, David Awschalom, Isaac Chuang, David Pritchard, Dan Kleppner
Living American social thinkers: (I guess Malcolm Gladwell is Canadian)
20 active American NBA/MLB players and American Idol finalists
10 living American poets, playwrights, painters, sculptors, architects, musicians, conductors, composers
33 living American scientists
If you omit scientists (I'm just a little advantaged), I'm doing mediocre on my culture. I can explain this with several reasons. First, the high culture scene is much more international than the NBA/MLB or American (hullo) Idol. Also, I don't spend much time on modern (1960+) culture except for music. But Gioia is right that there is hardly any media coverage of arts in America.