On #RepealDay, Remember "Prohibition Vogue" with Ken Burns, Dan Okrent, and Boardwalk Empire


Today is Repeal Day, the day went alcohol prohibition went bust.

Check out the video above, from 2010, in which we interview documentarian Ken Burns, who just released a PBS documentary on "the noble experiment" and author Daniel Okrent, whose great history Last Call, was the basis for the series.

Since this is the week of Reason's annual webathon—during which we're trying to raise $100,000 in tax-deductible contributions from readers like you (hey, that sounds like PBS!)—let me point out that we don't just make interesting videos about issues that matter (though we do that, and in spades).

We also act as your voice in public debates over politics, culture, and ideas. To that point, check out this longer interview we did with Ken Burns in which he and I mix it up over public funding for the arts, market forces and the economics of art, and how political identity is formed (Burns is a self-declared "yellow-dog Democrat").

Across all of our journalistic platforms—the print mag, the website, Reason TV—we want to bring you the latest and most pressing stories from a libertarian perspective, we want to sharpen and refine and expand libertarian ideas and concepts, and we want to engage other thinkers, creators, policymakers, and influentials with our vision of Free Minds and Free Markets. That's what your contributions—not just tax-deductible but also fully voluntary (unlike PBS, which gets tax dollars)—go toward. Please think about giving to us over the next week.

Here's the Burns interview:

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  1. I haven’t watched any of this season of Boardwalk Empire yet. Does it deal at all with prohibition? No wait, don’t spoil it for me.

    1. Spoiler alert – Chalkie White is a woman.

  2. OT, and sorry for the crappy slideshow, but:
    Way to go, gov’t policies!

    Not all of those things can necessarily be attributed to gov’t but at least half can directly be so, whether ‘intended’ or not…

    1. Moreover, the U.S. is the only country among 34 Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development members that doesn’t mandate paid maternity leave, putting them behind countries such as Malta, New Zealand and Greece.

      Of course I would say that puts us ahead of those countries. I mean, how is all that government-mandated stuff working out for Greece?

  3. I haven’t caught up with Boardwalk Empire for season 4 yet either.

    I might not. I don’t see how they can ever equal the awesome that was season 3. So I might just let my version of the series end with Gyp getting stabbed on that beach…Fade to white.

    1. I gotta tell you, I just started watching last year, and ThIS year I thought was outstanding.

      Last episode was, “HOLY SHIT I CAN’T BELIEVE IT FUCK!” quality as far as me and Mrs. Almanian were concerned. Watched it twice…

      What I DID stop watching was “Sons of Anarchy”. The end of last season, I finally hit the “this is just a soap opera and it’s stupid any more”. I know they all are – just not there with “Boardwalk Empire” yet. Still fresh as a daisy.

      1. I gave on Sons as well. When you’re letting your nutso mom railroad your wife, it takes a suspension of disbelief beyond that required of watching Sleepy Hollow.

        1. I gave up on Sons after the third season. They really overdid the IRA thing. It shouldn’t have taken up most of the season, and after that I’d had it.

          Boardwalk Empire, though, just keeps on going with the high quality. The writing is excellent and it changes enough from season to season to not get stale.

      2. Richard is a fuckin boss.

        1. Yes.

          I think someone needs to create a composite character combining features of Richard Harrow and Murray Rothbard.

          You could have a scene where MurrayHarrow strolls into the bordello that Mayors Against Illegal Guns is using as a headquarters and…well, you know.

    2. Is there anywhere to catch up on the first couple seasons? I finally got HBO, but starting in the middle is kind of weird.

      Also, GoT.

      1. Besides Netflix disc? HBO Go has (or had, I don’t have HBO now so can’t check) had both on demand. Available for smartphone, Roku, and some other platforms.


      2. Amazon instant video.

        1. The Vikings just went on the free list for Prime members.

      3. I got season 1 out from the library.

        Season 3 was all on HBO In Demand a few months ago.

        So I haven’t watched season 2 or anything from season 4 yet.

        It’s hard when you watch a show out of sequence. Basically the whole time I was watching season 1, I had already watched season 3, so I was like, “Where the FUCK is Richard Harrow?” and “I am never going to like Margaret so stop fucking trying to make me!” the whole time.

  4. I just realized who Burns looks like. Charles McGraw (the actor who played Marcellus in Kubrick’s Spartacus).

    1. *notes ProL’s preference for gladiator movies on Christmas list…good to know*

      1. Come on, Spartacus is a good movie. It’s loaded with great actors and was directed by Kubrick. It’s got some hokey moments–one has to remember this wasn’t Kubrick from start to finish–but it’s entertaining, overall. My favorites in this film are Ustinov and Laughton.

        1. And how do you feel about Top Gun, Pro L?

          1. That it’s gay porn? Definitely some misleading advertising, because the previews made it look like some sort of action movie with fighters.

              1. I’m impressed by that every time.

                1. Can’t wait for the next season.

  5. Apparently bars in LA are doing Repeal Day specials. I might have to convince the roommate to meet up for a drink at Cole’s.

    1. Bars everywhere are doing specials.

      Brewpubs moreso than bars though. At least based on past years.

      1. Many of the bars in Downtown LA are going for a ’20s/’30s retro chic that makes Repeal Day a good fit. I’m shocked that The Edison isn’t doing something, they used to do a great Black Friday event, but they seem to be reserved for a private event today.

        I’ll look at some of the local brewpubs to see if there’s anything interesting going on since I don’t really like driving downtown.

        1. One near me has, in the past, done an 18(?) minute break where they dont serve beer to represent the years of prohibition, then sold a special round at post-pro prices at the end of the break.

          1. Drinks cost a wooden nickle? I’m finding a bunch of events from last year’s repeal day in my area, but nobody seems to be doing anything for the 80th anniversary. I’m displeased.

  6. Mayor Quimby: You can’t seriously want to ban alcohol. It tastes great, makes women appear more attractive, and makes a person virtually invulnerable to criticism.
    Helen Lovejoy: Oh, won’t someone please think of the children?
    Maude Flanders: What kind of example are we setting?
    Chief Wiggum: Ladies, please. All our founding fathers, astronauts and World Series heroes have been either drunk or on cocaine.

  7. Burns’ documentaries are interesting but sentimental. The idea that his own preferences or bias isn’t express in them is just silly.

    1. He biases clearly show up.

      The baseball one was marred by his need to make every episode about race. The Jackie Robinson one, duh, of course, but it was overdone in the other episodes.

  8. On a beer forum, I suggested that all excise taxes should be eliminated and was called an anarchist.

    Im sure our local anarchists would be amused by that.

    1. Wait, what? You proposed eliminating a small portion of the myriad taxes we pay, and got called an anarchist? Who else comments on that forum, stroke victims?

      1. It was even within a post in which I half-ass supported the income tax (or at least wasnt specifically opposing across the board taxation). I wasnt even making a libertarian argument against it, I was just opposing the concept of special excise taxes on certain products.

        I will see if I can find it.

        1. My post:

          Why should there be a federal excise tax at all? Why should beer and alcohol (and gasoline and etc) have special taxes that dont apply to other products?

          Where is the lemonade excise tax?


          Indeed. Why should there be any taxes on anything? Who needs govmnt anyway? Love that anarchy.

  9. I watched “Prohibition” again recently on the Netflix.
    2 takeaways for me were
    1. Prohibition failed because it wasn’t enforced enough. It may well have been unenforceable in hindsight, but the attitudie of the time was if they had tried harder it would have worked.

    2. The repealers were initially hopeful the resumption of alcohol taxes would eliminate the income tax.

  10. Man, that guy is a galloping prick. He talks on and on, never pausing to give the floor, and then he takes umbrage when Nick tries to get a question in: “You never let me finish a sentence!”.

    Plus, he’s helplessly unable to see his own biases. He said his stuff is neutral and tries to be fairly presented. But, he completely bristled when Nick asked about public funding and went on the well-worn lefty rant about the “market” not being perfect. Then, he says there’s too much pluribus and he’s for unum. There’s no way for him to be objective about his biases.

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