Watch "Prohibition," a film by Ken Burns
Posted by Bruce Ramsey
It starts Sunday night, Oct. 2, on PBS-TV, and it is a wonderful piece of American history: Ken Burns' "Prohibition." Here is a preview from KCTS-TV, Channel 9, in Seattle:
I thought I knew the story of Prohibition, but I didn't know as much as this. What was most interesting (besides the Seattle stuff) was the first instalment, which is about how Prohibition came to be. It's bound up in American frontier culture, the economics of frontier agriculture, in religious revival, in the campaign for women suffrage, in worry and resentment about immigrants, in the Progressive campaign for the income tax, and in the demonization of Germans during World War I. All these things had an influence on bringing about Prohibition.
This is particularly relevant to Washington state, and not only because Ken Burns tells the story of Seattle's "good bootlegger." This state embraced Prohibition early, by public vote (just as we did with woman suffrage), and when Prohibition ended, we became a "control state." That is, we set up a system of state liquor stores, which are a direct legacy of Prohibition. And whether we keep those stores is now up to voters in a statewide election that begins in a few weeks.
There are also many parallels between the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s and the prohibition of marijuana now. Twice the repeal of marijuana prohibition has almost made the state ballot (in 2010 and 2011) and it is likely to make the ballot next year.
When Ken Burns was in town he said he'd never made a documentary that felt so relevant today. He is right.
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