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to: Headline Events in Civilization IV

What is Civilization IV? 

In Brief: The industrialized societies have moved into an age of entertainment. In this culture, technologies of mass communications deliver auditory and visual messages to entire communities, keeping people amused and informed. We have here a fast-paced, style-defined culture dominated by images of human personality, whether in sports, musical recordings, or television shows. Commercial advertising supports the shows.

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We know this civilization as the entertainment culture. Persons living today are aware of a new culture - pop culture - which has captured the affections of the young while subverting the culture learned in schools. A new illiteracy may be spreading as children grow up before television sets and embrace rock 'n roll music.

Entertainment, too, has a history. American entertainment can be traced back to the 19th Century freak shows, the circuses of P.T. Barnum, outdoors sporting events, minstrel shows, international expositions, penny arcades, and the like. Broadway shows, vaudeville, jazz performances, boxing championship fights, and Major League baseball were popular in the early 20th century. Now people are into gambling, pro basketball, fake wrestling, rented videos, video games, and, of course, television sitcoms. Each generation has its set of diversions. Each field of entertainment has its own history.

This civilization cannot be discussed without reference to advances in communications technology. Motion pictures and phonographs, a legacy of Thomas Edison, paved the way for a culture based on radio and television. Huge audiences tuned in to this type of entertainment, which was essentially free once the receiving equipment was bought.

One can see that the entertainment industry is larger than a single industry; it is what attracts customers for businesses in all industries by capturing people's attention. The device of slipping in commercial messages next to the part which the viewers or listeners want to receive is a subterfuge inherited from newspaper advertisements; but it works. Much commerce revolves around this sales device.

The history of American entertainment has racial overtones. Beginning with the "Jim Crow" ditty, white audiences were attracted to black routines. Jackie Robinson's entry into Major League baseball and Elvis Presley's imitation of black musical styles were important steps in the development of the entertainment culture.

A tension exists between pop culture and the "high" culture of symphonic music, theater, and art, which command academic respect. The one belongs to the fourth civilization while the former is a relic of the third. In pop culture, performers are the star; in the previous culture, it is the composer, writer, or creator of artistic works.

The fourth civilization took off in the aftermath of the two world wars. People wanted to keep their minds off ideologies and angry thoughts. But now the entertainment world is becoming less fun and more concerned with the business aspect. People are growing tired of the dumbed-down, one-size-fits-all mass entertainment. As they turn to cable TV and the Internet, network television's share of prime-time audiences is down.

The fourth civilization is centered in the mass media of news and entertainment which have existed from the end of World War I to the present. Its dominant cultural technologies are various devices of electronic communication 

For a more complete history of Civilization IV, read Five Epochs of Civilization, chapter 7.  (Read it here.)

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