Prohibition; Good-bye, Farewell and Amen

For eleven moons dear Reader, alcohol has not passed my lips.

I’m not ill, just still carrying a little Christmas cheer so have imposed Prohibition at home for a month. Well, nearly a month. Not Leap Day. Leap Day is for fun.

By the looks of the New Hampshire Primary, there’s a chance that the USA could be aboutjan-16-1919-prohibition-begins-usa-506x270 to slide into its dumbest policy-making era of all time (seriously guys, Trump?), but to date, the post-WW1 years seem to hold that mantle.

See in January 1920, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution of the USA made it illegal to sell or manufacture alcohol in the USA, a law that lasted until its repeal in December 1933 with the passing of the 21st Amendment. Phew!
It’s pretty hard to pass an amendment to the Constitution. Of the nearly 12,000 proposed since 1789, there have been 27 ratified. Still guys, how about we aim for 28 and see if we can stop kids getting shot at school hey?

prohibition-posterThe 18th Amendment was intended to reduce crime.

As a policy, it was about as successful as the cracker 1935 plan of introducing cane toads to Queensland to control the cane beetle. Zero impact on the cane beetles, major environmental damage. Genius.

Prohibition simply pushed the industry underground and allowed the mafia to control the black market. Genius.2016-01-12 19.44.21

It also pushed all the good bartenders of the era off-shore. Many, like Eddie Woelke, went to Cuba and used their time wisely to create fabulous new cocktails.

Like another IBA Official Cocktail, the Mary Pickford – if you want to know more about the wonderful Mary, her celebrity gang that makes Kimye look like amateurs, and her pretty pink rum, grenadine and pineapple juice cocktail, (pictured here from Sydney’s Pilu at Freshwater), here’s where Liz Ellis and I discussed it on ABC Radio in January. 

5704707423_4fd4751ba4Cuba in the 1920s was known as the Paris of the Caribbean (and I’m assuming it wasn’t because as soon as you walk out of your hotel you tread in dog shit like I did on my first visit to Paris). In his 1928 book “When it’s cocktail time in Cuba”, Basil Woon described Cuba as being “a land where personal liberty and climate are blended in just the right setting of beauty and romance.” So like Schoolies Week then but less bogan.

Things were looking great for Cuba and anyone who could afford to jet down there from the USA for cocktail hour, but back in the Land of the Free, thirsty folk turned to making moonshine and bathtub gin. It was called “gin” because it was light in colour (gin and vodka are not aged in wood and therefore do not colour like other spirits), but would not have resembled gin as we know it today in any other way. Bathtub gin refers to any type of homemade spirit made in amateur conditions.

Like they did in M*A*S*H, with The Still.mash-season-3-episode-7-19-95bd

Ours was a big M*A*S*H household and I was really sad to hear on New Year’s Day that Wayne Rogers, who played Trapper John McIntyre on the first three series, had died.

These first few weeks of 2016 have been tough in farewelling people we might not have known but who have played important parts in our lives. Rogers was one of those for me.

Wayne Rogers was born in Birmingham, Alabama, 30 years before it became the centre of the civil rights struggle and Martin Luther King Junior wrote his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”. In the letter, King said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

73108b5ece1d52e363b3ae950afd530aIn many ways, similar themes were explored in M*A*S*H, and although a comedy, it has been influential in my understanding of social justice and in seeing how comedy can so skilfully challenge our thinking on serious issues.

M*A*S*H also had a recurring theme of railing against absurd rules, and The Still was a great example of that.

I have battled through a lot of reading with words like “ethanol” and “methanol” and still don’t still_smithsonianunderstanding the home distillation process. General consensus though is that this still (which was one of three used in the show’s 11 years and is apparently in a box at the Smithsonian Institute somewhere) would not have worked and certainly couldn’t have made gin.

Closest thing it could have made – according to the chemistry-types who haunt the M*A*S*H forums – is Baijui, a Chinese alcohol made from grain. Or possibly vodka. And if you go HERE, some bright entrepreneur will sell you a 2015-12-09 17.13.29kit to make your very own.

With the amount of good local gin available now though – and I highly recommend Poor Tom’s from Marrickville – please don’t ask me to try your home-brew.

But the alcohol wasn’t the point of The Still.

The point was in the excision of a small amount of control and pleasure in an absurdly regulated environment.

Enduring themes, but not all TV sitcoms age well.

Case in point, look at this 8 minutes of gold below with the intro to 1981’s “Julie’s Wedding” when The Love Boat came Down Under. To Australia mate. Where everything is SO FAIR DINKUM.

Things of some note: “whacko” means good in Australian, if you’re confused, you feel “all up a gum tree” and Harry Morgan, who played M*A*S*H’s Colonel Potter was a guest star in the episode, alongside Tiny the Kangaroo and Elizabeth the Koala.

M*A*S*H though, still stands up as good viewing.  THIS CLIP combines Benny Hill music with some great M*A*S*H moments.

Sure, there is lot that hasn’t aged so well, like the treatment of Major Margaret Houlihan (particularly in the movie and earlier series) and the source of Trapper’s nickname. Robert Hooker’s book that inspired the movie and the TV series details John McIntyre being caught in a train toilet with a young woman who says “he trapped me”. This hilarious anecdote would – and should – now be referred to as “sexual assault”.102_abduction_margaret_houlihan

But the likes of Trapper and Hawkeye and Klinger and of course Colonel Flagg are important parts of my childhood. Every time a former cast member dies, I’m saddened. Here, watch this and you can be sad too.

Someone who isn’t in that video is Patrick Swayze, who appeared in one episode of M*A*S*H where he was diagnosed with leukaemia. Swayze, you’ll remember played Johnny in 1988’s Dirty Dancing. Like Cocktail, I have seen this movie several hundred times as part of my commitment to excellence in usheretting (it was the 80s, we were usherettes) and can recite it AND the words to THIS SONG.

What I didn’t know was that Swayze actually wrote it as well as singing and brooding so successfully in the clip that makes me seasick.

Something you may have missed is that in 2004, some bright spark decided to make a prequel “Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights”. Set in 1958 Havana, when being American and wealthy may have been losing its cache in Cuba, it has EXACTLY the same plot as Dirty Dancing, just with Cuban music. Swayze plays a small role as a dance instructor, but more interesting is to see Mad Men cast members January Jones (Betty Draper) and John Slattery (Roger Sterling) in roles I suspect they don’t talk about too often.

Perhaps they can blame the booze. After all, it’s what Homer Simpson in Homer vs the 18th Amendment toasts, “To Alcohol! The cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.”

As for me, I haven’t repealed my personal 18th Amendment so I’m off to get a sparkling water.

Vale Wayne Rogers.


3 thoughts on “Prohibition; Good-bye, Farewell and Amen

  1. M*A*S*H was a huge part of my tv viewing growing up too, and I could watch reruns for days given half the chance. Saddened to hear about Way e Rogers passing.

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