Last night documentary filmmaker Ken Burns' (probably most famous for The Civil War) three-part Prohibition kicked off at 9 pm, a thorough, journalistic look at the story of America's "noble experiment" with alcohol. If you missed the first installment, "A Nation of Drunkards," all is not lost: OPB is airing it again at 2 am! (Convenient, guys. Alternatively, you can just buy a copy of the whole thing—it releases tomorrow. You're probably going to be doing that for holiday gifts anyhow.)
Tonight's installment will get into some of the more thrilling chapters of the era (speakeasies!), but "Drunkards" should not be skipped, especially if your impression of the political movement leading up to the ban of alcohol is little more than a sketchy idea that people back then were puritanical prudes. Burns unpacks a vision of early 19th Century America in which it was ordinary to the point of compulsory that men literally drank morning, noon, and night. Further exacerbated by the introduction of whiskey, constant drunkenness led to huge societal problems, the most heartbreaking of which included the widespread abuse, rape, an abandonment of women and children. I like my wine and vodka sodas, but I'm not sure anymore which team I would be on were I alive at the time.
Burns is upfront in interviews about his films not being political, and I don't expect Prohibition to go into any discussion of the contemporary parallels, but it's impossible not to infer the relevance of this history lesson to the current war on drugs. Especially when Burns rolls out the numbers regarding the proportion of the federal budget that once was funded by alcohol. Gee, I wonder what would happen to the economy if there was a prohibition on marijuana? Etc.
Point being, this should be required viewing for feminists and proponents of legalizing weed as well as history buffs. Don't sleep.
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