The State (with the capital ‘S’) loves its prohibitions (both the lower case ‘p’ and the upper case ‘P’). Once the State finishes telling us what we can’t do it’s up to the individual citizen to figure out what he/she is allowed to do. Keep in mind, that State wants you to believe all that you are allowed do is due to the good graces of the State. If you violate (or overlook one of many and often vague) any prohibitions you are at fault and the State is quick to respond.
Prohibitions are about control, and an easy way to control people is through denying and/or allowing access. The purpose of prohibitions (in most any form) is to keep certain individuals locked out and other individuals locked in. It is the State that gets to determine which side of the door you get to live. The State should work for the citizen, but many of the State’s prohibitions work against the citizens and deny us access, opportunity, and ultimately freedom.
Many of us have encountered F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby in one form or another, be it reading the novel or seeing one of the movies. I got to thinking about Gatsby when I was brainstorming ideas for the topic of Prohibition, and I found that are more prohibitions presented in the novel than the one covered in the Eighteenth Amendment. Here are some prohibitions I found while reviewing the novel.
Alcohol: This is the one most of us probably remember from reading the novel in high school. Prohibition (with a capital ‘P’) was a Constitutional Amendment, making it the law of the land. The novel shows us how easy it is for the government to make everyday citizens criminals by prohibiting something most people have no issues with.
Gambling: There is a brief mention of gambling in the novel related to fixing the 1919 World Series. The lesson is sports and gambling can be rigged, but the average Joe (or Jane) is prohibited from knowing the fix is in.
Making Money: The Great Gatsby shows us everybody is allowed to make money, but new money is prohibited from mixing with old money.
Friendships: Gatsby and Nick may be the only authentic friendship of the novel. Fitzgerald shows us most friendships are superficial at best, and friendships between classes are an illusion and are ultimately prohibited.
Affairs: Affairs can be tolerated if they are kept quiet. Affairs are prohibited if emotions are involved and/or they can damage social status.
Social Class: The most important prohibition The Great Gatsby teaches us is that not matter what you do, how much money you have, or how hard you work you are prohibited from moving up in social class. You can pretend, you can posture, you can even change your life but you will never be accepted by those of a higher social class.
The Great Gatsby works on several levels, one is as an observation of prohibitions (those things we can’t and shouldn’t do). Now that the novel is public domain it’s easy to get yourself a free or really inexpensive ($1.99 Barnes and Noble Nook) copy. Whether you have read or are new to the novel its well worth the read.
“Three times I have been mistaken for a prohibition agent, but never had any trouble clearing myself.” -Dashiell Hammett-
“There’s an idea that the human body is somehow evil and bad and there are parts of it that are especially evil and bad, and we should be ashamed. Fear, guilt and shame are built into the attitude toward sex and the body. It’s reflected in prohibitions and these taboos that we have.” -George Carlin-
“Complete prohibition of all chemical mind changers can be decreed, but not enforced, and tends to create more evils than it cures.” -Aldous Huxley-
“Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits. Fanatics will never learn that, though it be written in letters of gold across the sky. It is prohibition that makes things precious.” -Mark Twain-
“Prohibition is the trigger of crime.” -Ian Fleming-
“I believe that it should be perfectly lawful to print even things that outrage the pruderies and prejudices of the general, so long as any honest minority, however small, wants to read them. The remedy of the majority is not prohibition but avoidance.” -H.L. Mencken-
When is an empty bottle more than an empty bottle? Another way to start this journo would be to ask how many times have you walked past an empty booze bottle and wondered how it got there? A while ago I noticed that there were empty booze bottles showing up in the alley behind my house. I’ve always been a fan of mysteries so discovering the source of the bottles was a case I wanted to solve.
I found out rather quickly the case of the empty booze bottles wasn’t much of a mystery. A neighbor from across the alley was stepping behind his garage most afternoons and having a drink or few before going inside his house. Mystery solved. But there was still a story, and there were still unanswered questions. Was he drinking because of what happened each day or to brace himself for what was to happen each evening? What prohibited him from drinking in his own home?
Empty bottles may be trash but they are also stories. Stories that may be mysteries, stories that may not have resolutions. The mystery of the empty bottles in the alley may not have a resolution, but I’m positive it is a story of Prohibition.
“It might be a little rough on some people for a while, but I think it’s the only way to deal with drugs. Look at Prohibition: all it did was make a lot of criminals rich. Should be legalized for a matter of sanity.”