Oh, Man! Prohibition

Clare Briggs

Clare Briggs is a famous cartoonist who lived from 1875 to 1930. Poems by Wilbur Nesbitt.

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31 Responses

  1. atomickristin says:

    Oh yes, the women as controlling, fun spoiling harpies trope. I just love that one.

    Just to confirm the stereotype, lest we forget the temperance movement was born in a world in which male alcoholism was widespread and wreaked havoc on women and children’s lives in a very real way. https://www.pbs.org/kenburns/prohibition/roots-of-prohibition/ There was no social safety net, women had few rights, and were completely reliant upon their husbands to provide for them. So a drunk husband who couldn’t/didn’t work and who drank up their paychecks could and did bring about a woman’s death or her children’s death, if there was no money for food or medicine or heating fuel in wintertime. Even now some men drink up money that is needed for other things and this takes a very real toll on many families.

    But of course, the problem is always that women are shrews and harridans, constantly trying to spoil men’s fun and never, ever that some men lack self-control and are never overly indulgent of their worst impulses.Report

    • Interesting. I read it more on the tendency to men to “bark safely behind the fence” and then back down relatively easily when confronted (especially by a wife, though not exclusively so). The “domesticated man” theme in a lot of these (both by Briggs and others) does cut both ways, though. Is the woman a know-better or a nag? Depends on one’s perspective. In any event, I didn’t think she came off badly here.

      You are right that prohibition was a response to some pretty real problems, though, even if it wasn’t a good solution to them. Though maybe it did serve a purpose in re-calibrating things Not sure things got back to being as bad as they were before prohibition. There was actually an interesting thing I ran across a while back on how Russia’s alcoholism is attributable to the loosening of Gorby’s anti-alcohol laws.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Will Truman says:

        I read it Kristin’s way at first, especially with the penultimate panel him going all Patrick Henry, quickly followed by a ‘yes dear’ to the question of ‘aren’t you better off now’

        But I could see it less ‘problematically’ too.Report

        • Will Truman in reply to Kolohe says:

          There are definitely some of these where the woman comes across as a nag. Just not seeing it with this one.

          And also I should point out that though history does record his role he’s blaming “a bunch of men” for prohibition.Report

          • On a sidenote, I’m holding back on some of the ones involving race until I figure out how best to present them, if at all. It’s analogous to the unaltered early Tom & Jerry and Loony Tunes stuff, in the overall. Which is inherently problematic, though not in a targeted way.

            The gender stuff… the line is just too blurry. Some of them are kind of woke! He’s on the ball as far as sexual harassment at work is concerned. But a lot of the others do deal pretty heavily in stereotypes of the era.Report

          • atomickristin in reply to Will Truman says:

            I don’t have steam coming out of my ears or anything. It was an interesting cartoon and I’m glad you shared it, I enjoyed reading it. Just wanted to share my knee jerk reaction to it.Report

            • dragonfrog in reply to atomickristin says:

              That was my initial reading too – but in the picture, he does look pretty comfy and contented.

              II’ll note that I first read it on my phone this morning, so the picture was quite small. Now on a bigger screen, the physicality of the two people makes it seem like their agreement in the last panel is more sincere.Report

              • atomickristin in reply to dragonfrog says:

                I will cop to probably being more sensitive to this issue than others by virtue of being female, by virtue of being particularly interested in that era of history, and also because I’ve dealt with the real world effects of the “women spoil all men’s fun” trope a time or two myself.

                But let me reiterate – wasn’t offended, am not in ANY way saying I think this should not have been run. I enjoyed reading it and enjoyed commenting on it and the responses. Just that that’s the take I came away with (looking at it as I am through my own individual lens.Report

              • atomickristin in reply to atomickristin says:

                Yes, of course she’s happy. She got her way. That’s the point of the cartoon. She likes him home. He prefers the club (if he didn’t, it wouldn’t have taken Prohibition to get him to stay home). Ergo, on some level she – as the female archetype here – is spoiling his fun. She doesn’t have to be grumpy or naggy in this 5 second slice of life we’re seeing, because she won. She’s triumphant and he doesn’t dare to argue, despite his big words earlier.

                I don’t think you can divorce a political cartoon from the zeitgeist and you can’t divorce women from Prohibition. Women were a very important part of the coalition that got Prohibition passed if not THE most important part (and this was why most temperance organizations supported suffrage) so any cartoon about Prohibition has to be viewed thru that lens.

                So given that, any political cartoon that’s about Prohibition is probably going to be making a point with a female character and I think this one definitely is. Not taking that into consideration, is like looking at a cartoon of Boss Tweed without knowing about Tammany Hall and thinking “why is that fat man so hated? Is it because he has a sack of money for a head??” There is just a lot more going on here than a straight read reveals because the cartoon represents the spirit of the times and has to be viewed in that light.

                Nothing in a political cartoon is there just randomly. Briggs chose everything he put into that scene. Look at how the woman is standing while the man is sitting down. Look at how much space she’s taking up. Look at how powerful her body language is. Her facial expression is totally clear and confident. Her clothes are modern. None of that is accidental. Even the word “yes” is fainter than the “no”s were in the previous panels. It makes him sore that a bunch of men are telling him what he can and can’t do but when it comes to it, behind closed doors, she has taken his liberty from him and all he can do is agree to it.

                I’m just not seeing where the humor lies if the woman isn’t at least in part meant to be something of a foil for our hero as he mourns the late, lamented club and that the whole setup isn’t meant to be somewhat poking fun/ironic at the guy’s big talk outside the house vs. his demeanor at home.Report

              • I se it as him engrossed in his paper, saying “yes” without really listening.

                OTOH, she’s not nagging. She’s smiling, happy he’s home with her.Report

          • Iron Tum in reply to Will Truman says:

            There are definitely some of these where the woman comes across as a nag. Just not seeing it with this one.

            Probably because the man has an obvious scowl in the first panels, and none in the last, making it look like he’s happy to be home in his slippers reading the paper.

            The woman also does not have a frown. She doesn’t seem particularly grumpy.Report

      • atomickristin in reply to Will Truman says:

        I do see that aspect of it. The cartoon is absolutely a critique of the man. A blowhard out in public, but a meek, whipped sad sack at the hands of his wife who never lets him do anything that men “should” be able to do, like go to the club, play cards, have a drink, grope his secretary…oh wait see now I’ve come back around to the male-female element of it.

        It actually makes it a little bit worse to me that on the one hand the point is being quite cleverly made…some folks talk big and then where the rubber hits the road, they back down…but the woman being a nofun-nik is just totally a given there. Like women are just by definition the ones who benefit from a man being neutered and forced to stay at home. Like it’s a given she’d be gloating about it. She’s the obvious foil. IDK.

        Of course, as a libertarian I think Prohibition is never a good solution to anything. But historically I completely sympathize with those women (like A Tree Grows In Brooklyn who were desperately trying to feed their families and there was just nothing left after their husband was done drinking on Saturday night. They were just trying to survive in a really hard world and the person who was supposed to help them was not only not helping, but actually pulling in the opposite direction.Report

    • James K in reply to atomickristin says:

      lest we forget the temperance movement was born in a world in which male alcoholism was widespread and wreaked havoc on women and children’s lives in a very real way.

      It is an under-appreciated point about regulatory policy – that bad regulations are often ill-conceived responses to legitimate problems. Those of us who wish to push back against government over-reach need to have solutions of our own to push back with. Denying a problem exists or telling people to just live with it won’t get us very far.

      This is one of the reasons I am much more willing to accept welfare than most libertarians – its a way of taking the worst of the sting out of market economies without expanding government control over the private sector too much (especially if the welfare system is well-designed).Report

  2. Iron Tum says:

    Perhaps you would like to start a chapter of the Prohibition Party in your state if one doesn’t already exist?


    • atomickristin in reply to Iron Tum says:

      Just because I understand the reasons why people thought prohibition was a good idea at that moment in history (and largely agree that it was a problem for them, and still is for many people) doesn’t mean that I think Prohibition was in itself a good idea.Report

    • Michael Cain in reply to Iron Tum says:

      In Colorado, it is almost trivially easy to get on the general election ballot as a candidate for president — either some number of signatures on petitions, or $5,000 cash. IIRC, in 2016 we had 22 candidates, including one from the Prohibition Party. I have a friend who has — or at least used to have — a pretend party named the Cocktail Party on Facebook. If I won the lottery, one of the things I would do is put the Cocktail Party on the Colorado ballet (him for president, me for vice). I’ll bet that we could get more votes than the Prohibitionists.Report

      • If you both reside in the same state, you wouldn’t be able to be vice president. However, would that affect you and your friend’s ability to get on the ballot in Colorado? (I’m assuming, of course, your friend lives in Colorado, too.)Report

        • He lives in Portland, so that deals with the first problem. It’s been a few years since I checked, but IIRC there’s no residency requirement. Especially if I get an early start on the paperwork and register the Cocktail Party as a political party. With big lottery winnings, “just throw money at it” is a viable solution to most problems.Report

  3. Kolohe says:

    Looking up what “Kelly” is, Wikipedia brings me back full circle, as a Clare Briggs drawing is featured on the page. (which also, um, has some dated sensibilities)Report

  4. Unlike others here, I have a hard time reading the cartoon as a criticism of the guy as a blowhard.* Instead, the cartoon seems to be (at least mildly) supportive of prohibition. Prohibition has apparently made life a little better for the guy. He enjoys what he’s doing now more than what he would be doing if it weren’t for prohibition.

    The point the main character makes to his friend isn’t so much that he opposes temperance but that he opposes legislating temperance into law. So there’s no necessary connection between his ideological opposition and the cartoon’s (in my interpretation) seeming endorsement of prohibition as a policy.

    *I hadn’t noticed what Kristin and others pointed out as the cartoon’s seeming endorsement “nagging wife” trope, but I kind of see it now that she has pointed it out.Report

    • atomickristin in reply to gabriel conroy says:

      Several people have said that they think the guy feels he’s better off now.

      That, I am not seeing at all.

      Certainly he wasn’t FORCED to go to the club and play Kelly, right?? The rules were never “Prohibition, or you must go to the club!” He always had the option of staying home with the missus and reading the paper. He chose not to do that prior to Prohibition, and while it may be a trope, I think most of us accept as factual, the reason why men went/go to the club or the bar or the pub (a la Andy Capp) is to get away from home, away from the nagging wife (that’s why when she calls, whoever answers the phone tells her he’s not there.)

      I think the humor in this cartoon derives from the juxtaposition of the man earlier on talking about how fundamentally wrong it is that he is told what to do and is deprived of his liberty, while in the very next frame he’s agreeing meekly with what the wife has to say on the subject, contrary to everything he had to say before. The responses are “no, no, no” then “yes” to highlight his apparent change of attitude – of course I suspect that his earlier opinions are his actual opinions and his “yes” is from obligation.

      The implication is that he’d already given up his liberty by virtue of being married and that Prohibition is really just more of the same. No matter how much he talks about freedom and rights among other men when push comes to shove, he’s not willing to go to the mat with the wife over it – hence he’s a blowhard.Report

      • I still see it differently. Sometimes paternalistic policies can change behavior for the better. I’m libertarianish enough to oppose prohibition and to want to decriminalize drugs. But I’m not wholly convinced paternalistic schemes always fail. To me, the article seemed to be making that argument.

        However, I see your point much more clearly than I did reading the other comments. And taking the cartoon in context, you’re probably more right than I am about it. Your take does a better job at explaining why the cartoon is supposed to be humorous than my take does. So thanks for clarifying.Report

  5. atomickristin says:

    Fun convo. Thanks!Report