PBS is premiering a three part series about the Prohibition Era in Prohibition, debuting on October 2, 3, and 4, 2011 (8:00-10:00 p.m. ET on PBS. Prohibition is a new three-part, five-and-a-half-hour documentary series by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick,
Prohibition features music by Wynton Marsalis and the voice talents of Tom Hanks, Jeremy Irons, Paul Giamatti, Oliver Platt, John Lithgow, Samuel L. Jackson, Patricia Clarkson (Five), Adam Arkin, Sam Waterston, Josh Lucas and others. The narrator of ‘Prohibition’ is Peter Coyote.
Set in the era of bathtub gin, bootleggers and speakeasies, ‘Prohibition’ tells the true story of the rise, rule and fall of the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It was called the Noble Experiment, but it was in fact one of America’s most notorious civic failures, an object lesson in the challenge of legislating human behavior.
The Prohibition Era started in the early 1920’s, in response to concerns about alcohol abuse. The story begins with America’s growing concern about alcohol abuse, when saloons and taverns flourished with the availability of hard liquor, but encouraged a culture of men that neglected their families and abused their wives. In an effort to save the American family, women such as Carry Nation, Frances Willard and Elizabeth Cady Stanton first demanded temperance, then outright Prohibition.
Prohibiting alcohol had the unintended consequence of creating a boom industry for gangsters and bootleggers, profilting from the sale of illegal alcohol. The Prohibition Era is dramatized in the SAG, Golden Globe and Emmy winning HBO series Boardwalk Empire. Boardwalk Empire opens with a bang as Nucky loses grip on Atlantic City.
“Alcoholism has been a devastating human problem for hundreds of years, but prohibiting the sale and manufacture of alcohol did not solve it,” said Burns. “The entire history of the Constitution had been about extending liberties and freedom, until Prohibition. Its impact on our society was profound and widespread. It transformed our politics, our relationship with the government, our justice system, and our most intimate relationships.”
The powerful Anti-Saloon League took up the mantle in the late 19th century, with the goal of a Consitiutional Amendment banning the sale and manufacture of alcohol. The 18th Amendment was ratified on January 16, 1919, and went into effect one year later.
America would be split by a fierce cultural divide between ‘wets’ and ‘drys’ for the next 13 years. The divide pitted the city against the countryside, Protestants against Catholics and immigrants against native-born citizens. Law abiding citizens became criminasl and made a mockery of the justice system. Illicit drinking was seen as glamorous, as seen during the wild ‘Roaring Twenties’ and the era of the Flapper. Neighborhood gangs became crime syndicates and the social sytem throughout the country was eroded.
“We know now, of course, that Prohibition didn’t work,” said Novick. “But at the time, it really did seem like a good idea to a lot of people, who saw the Constitution as the moral foundation of American society. The unintended consequences of the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act are stunning to contemplate, and make Prohibition an utterly relevant, cautionary tale about the dangers of believing there can ever be a quick fix for complex social problems.”
Prohibition raises vital questions that are as relevant today as they were 100 years ago – about means and ends, individual rights and responsibilities, and the proper role of government.
Boardwalk Empire renewed for 3rd season on HBO