new boozy city

My favorite bit of narration from Prohibition, Parts II & III:

Consumption dropped in every major city, and everywhere in the United States, except in New York City, where it went up. New Yorkers then as now did NOT enjoy being told what to do and took to drinking in defiance.

Heh. Yeah, I could’ve guessed.

Another favorite tale: a woman at grad school in Cambridge (Radcliffe?) applied that intellectual talent (with a roommate) to making homemade beer. It blew up, thus spoiling an otherwise promising weekend, no doubt.

All of these stories–up to and including the spawn of what we now know as the mob–make for quite the tale of “crime, corruption and hypocrisy.”

Oh, and did anyone else catch the right to privacy first articulated thanks to Justice Brandeis?  Or a hero of New York politics, Al Smith? Imagine a politician today standing up for his or her convictions regardless of losing a general election, because that’s what Smith did after denouncing the strengthening KKK.

It was quite something hearing from The New Yorker’s Lois Long (aka “Lipstick”) who could be a blogger recapping her night somewhere on the Lower East Side circa 2011 : these are the tales which cemented the legendary flappers in New York’s imagination, I’m sure.

At last, Burns gets back to gender in the 1920’s, and brings up a phenomenon you’ll see again in the wake of 2nd wave American feminism: an incredibly politicized generation of feminist activists appalled at the sexualized behavior of their daughters. My delightful discovery, thanks to this doc, was that of Pauline Sabin, the blue-blood Republican who stood for repeal and against the Women’s Christian Temperance Union because she felt offended that they purported to stand for all American women.

Definitely worth a viewing–so put this one in your queue for a winter’s weekend, if not sooner! I’m impressed at Burns’ brevity here: there is more than enough material to have gone on far longer, and this film is fairly “tight” for him, clocking in at around six hours. It’s also genuinely insightful in terms of how long certain political and cultural debates have been with us as a nation, which is to say–as always–longer than we thought.


Author: mskristenmd


4 thoughts on “new boozy city”

  1. I downloaded PDFs of her 1931 6-part series entitled….DOLDRUMS! Can you freaking stand it?

  2. The bits about the suffrage-temperance activists being ever so dismayed at their daughters’ apparently apolitical hedonism seemed oddly familiar…

    1. OMG, that seemed rather apt this week given the debate about Slutwalk (a whole other conversation and post fodder for sure!) I don’t want to clap like a seal just because gender was mentioned. I actually think he did a pretty good job of presenting some of that conflict without disregarding the urgency of the issue for the WCTU–though dour, his setup of alcohol’s domestic violence “code” function and the horrid economic implications of dependents if a check was spent in full at the saloon did a good job grounding that. I need to look up some more of Lipstick’s New Yorker columns from back in the day, though! Michael Musto, eat your heart out!

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