Saturday, October 8, 2011
Prohibition Parts 2 & 3
After being riveted to the TV for 2 hours on night 1 of Prohibition, I was excited about catching the next installment on Tues night. I poured myself a big glass of Hennepin Ale from a recent trip to Ommegang Brewery and settled in to watch America try to deal with sobriety.
Part 2 was about the effects the 18th amendment had on society. This was the only amendment to the constitution to limit people’s freedoms. It was generally thought of as a bad idea and turned thousands of law-abiding citizens into criminals. Between all the bootleggers making alcohol and the speak easies selling it illegally, a huge segment of the population started breaking the law. It gave rise to criminal gangs who took over distribution of booze. Possibly the only positive thing to come from this law was that women were allowed to enter these illicit drinking establishments with men.
Tax on the sale of alcohol accounted for one third of the federal budget before Prohibition. All the revenues that were lost on taxing booze had to be replaced somehow. Their answer was the creation of the income tax that we love so much today.
Unfortunately, I fell asleep about a half hour into the episode. I wasn’t sure if it was my busy day or the Ommegang, but I couldn’t keep my eyes open to watch the flappers shaking there things on the screen.
I vowed to stay up through the entirety of part 3. So, ironically, I abstained as I watched how the country regained its right to drink. Thankfully, it wasn’t the Hennepin. Ken Burns’s film style of panning in and out of still photos accompanied by celebrity voice overs, which made for enlightening entertainment in his Civil War series, was a bit boring in this context.
I found it just as hard on night three to keep my eyes focused on the screen as they showed Al Capone’s picture from just about every angle imaginable. I Tivoed the programs so I was able to go back a couple of days later to watch selected parts. Guess what? I fell asleep again. It just didn’t have the interesting characters and statistics that made the first episode so watchable. To be fair to Burns, I was very familiar with the gang activity of the 1920’s from all the movies about the subject. I can remember watching an episode of Star Trek back in the 1970’s where Captain Kirk, dressed in a pinstripe suit and carrying a machine gun, fights gangsters. This stuff is part of American culture.
Prohibition would have been much more meaningful if it was to point out the parallels between that time period and today. Particularly, the societal effects of the illegality of alcohol then and of marijuana today. A case can be made that both led to increased criminal behavior by law abiding citizens and gang violence. The exclusions in the 18th amendment made for alcohol’s use for medicinal purposes foreshadowed today’s “medical marijuana”.
The three major ideas I took away from this program were:
1. Extremism is a bad approach to governing.
2. Americans like their freedoms.
3. Americans like their alcohol.