Thursday, August 21, 2008 8/21/08-Prohibition and Other Virtues

In today's encore excerpt--the U.S. outlaws the manufacture, transport, and sale of alcoholic beverages under the Volstead Act (1920-1933), more commonly called Prohibition. Against expectations, Prohibition resulted in even greater levels of alcohol consumption in America and it was repealed in 1933. The backlash that led to Prohibition extended to other areas as well, including banning highly suggestive language such as "the cat's meow":

"When, at the stroke of New Year 1920, the U.S. formally went 'dry,' most revellers would have only experienced the dull ache of their hangovers. It was only as time went by that the realization sunk in of how profoundly Prohibition had altered American life. It would be 1925 before Variety would note that Times Square--between 34th and 52nd streets--boasted 2,500 speakeasies, where before Prohibition there had been only 300 saloons. In the entire country, in 1925, there were estimated to be three million 'booze joints,' where 'pre-Prohibition cafes numbered 177,000.' In other words, a nation of moderate drinkers was turned into a nation of obsessive alcoholics, paying for criminals to build up an immense black market that would affect the nation's economy for decades (and continues to do so in the drug age). There would be fun, gaiety, abandon, dancing, hot-cha-cha, cheers and laughter, and buzzing joints like the Cotton Club and Texas Guinan's cabarets, but also killings, sickness, fraud, repression and the corruption of states and city halls. ...

"The moral guardians, however, continued their march, moving in, as King Booze leered over the city, on 'suggestive' performances and sexual innuendo. In February 1921, the Music Publisher's Protective Association began a 'housecleaning' campaign aimed at banishing 'all 'blue' and double-meaning lyrics' from the market, [stating] all 'indecent material, or songs that are capable of indecent construction' should be banned. ... Vaudeville shows were to be vigorously cleaned up too, 'the latitude allowed shimmy and jazz dancers' was to be curtailed. ... Current slang, like 'Hot Dog,' 'The Cat's Meow,' 'Cat's Pajamas' and 'Hot Cat,' was also on the proscribed list."

Simon Louvish, Mae West, St. Martin's Press, Copyright 2005 by Simon Louvish, pp. 82-83.


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