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[Detail] Krazy Kat goes a-wooing. 1916.

4) Prohibition

The temperance movement gained momentum as a religious and political cause in the late-nineteenth century. Efforts to prohibit the sale and consumption of alcohol within local communities ultimately led to a national ban in October 1919 with the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment of the Constitution. The U.S. officially remained "dry" throughout the 1920s, but prohibition also increased crime with the continued sale and distribution of alcohol through bootleggers and speakeasies (illegal saloons). U.S. Treasury agents often confiscated alcohol and fined and imprisoned offenders but their actions accounted for little more than a drop in the bucket. The Eighteenth Amendment was finally repealed in 1933.

An untitled film from Tony Sarg's Almanac (currently identified in the collection as the first part of The First Circus) critiques Prohibition through a satirical reference to Charles Darwin's Descent of Man. The introduction explains, "Forty five years ago today Charles Darwin wrote his book 'Descent of Man' from Monkey. . . . At the same time he unknowingly discovered the original Prohibition Agent."

The film features two monkeys discovering and sharing a bottle of liquor. When a larger monkey chases them away and drinks the rest of the bottle, the original monkeys cry over their loss.

  • Sarg's cartoon appeared four years before the 1925 "Scopes Monkey Trial" in which teacher John Scopes was found guilty of teaching the theory of evolution--an idea that allegedly disputed the notion of creationism. Why do you think that Sarg chose to use Charles Darwin's Descent of Man to critique prohibition?
  • What does the film suggest about groups such as the temperance movement attempting to influence social behavior through political and legal means?
  • What is suggested by the conclusion of the film, in which the larger ape drinks the monkey's alcohol?
  • How might the excitable illustration in The Enchanted Drawing and the drunken rabbit in Mary and Gretel relate to Prohibition?
  • How does this cartoon compare to songs about prohibition in the American Memory collection, California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties?