Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s ‘prohibition’ documentary


Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s ‘prohibition’ documentary is a three-part film that focuses on the rise, rule, and fall of the Eighteenth Amendment that prohibited the manufacturing, selling, and transporting of alcoholic products. The documentary traces the passage of the Amendment and further provides the social, economic, and legal effects that rose to the implementation. According to the information and knowledge provided by the film, although prohibition of alcohol was aimed at restoring morality in America by discouraging devastating effects of alcohol abuse, it was clear that it resulted in various unintended consequences that necessitated the need for its repeal. Reflection from the film can provide insights on the negative effects that prohibition can have in the beverage industry today.

Consumption Patterns and Prohibition

Burns’ prohibition documentary reveals that the major reason for the implementation of the Eighteenth Amendment was to protect individuals, families, and society of America from the devastating effects of alcohol abuse. The first part of the movie reveals how the temperance movement came into existence revealing a nation of drunkards with major issues being public drunkenness, domestic abuse, and poverty (Burns and Novick). Based on the video, the amendment was meant to discourage the consumption of alcohol in the country. Due to the law, people had little ways of accessing alcohol for consumption purposes that led to the dropping of consumption levels in the beverage industry especially in segments such as wine, beer, spirits, and cocktail. Based on the video, the law did not prohibit people from consuming alcohol but lowered the consumption patterns of specific drinks that were considered alcoholic due to lack of manufacturers, sellers, and distributors. Research indicates that the beverage industry today has a lower consumption base specifically in segments focused on alcohol compared to the early 1990s (Szymanski, p200). Based on the research, it is evident that prohibition interfered with the consumption patterns in the beverage industry as its effects are still evident in some segments of the industry. Due to the 18th Amendment, the model of drinking changed with two-thirds of Americans currently drinking with the domestic sociability reducing alcohol consumption in saloons and clubs (Szymanski, p215).

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Prohibition and Alcoholic Sector

The beverage industry is made up of companies that market nonalcoholic and alcoholic items. The documentary reveals that the 18th Amendment directly affected the various sectors of the beverage industries especially those that marketed alcoholic products. Due to the law, numerous distillers, sellers, and suppliers were forced to shut down to comply with the law that negatively affected the booming state of the beverage industry. The beverage industry for once witnessed a drop in sales and profits and was shrunk to only support non-alcoholic segments. From the video, the beer, wine, spirit, cocktail, and other alcoholic sectors in the beverage industry were abolished within a day that further led to the distortion of the operations in the industry. The documentary further reveals how prohibition led to many people losing employment in the beverage industry. This reveals that prohibition if implemented today can distort operations, lead to the closure of numerous companies, and also result in the reduction of employment opportunities in the beverage industry. Since the 18th Amendment was reversed, the beverage industry has slowly managed to restore itself into its booming state with more companies marketing alcoholic products emerging over the years (Szymanski, p103). However, it is argued that the industry could be in a better position generating more revenues and profits if it did not take 14 years for the 18th Amendment to be identified as problematic to the beverage industry and economy (Slocum, Kline and Cavaliere, p103).

Prohibition and Illegal Activities

Burns documentary revealed how prohibition led to the rise of illegal activities in the beverage industry. ‘The Nation of Scofflaws’ part in the documentary, Burns shows how the prohibition of alcohol in America encouraged criminality in the video. Based on the video, criminal networks emerged trying to control the shipping and handling of alcoholic products. Additionally, the documentary reveals that due to the law, unregulated and poor quality of alcohol products such as Jamaica ginger managed to find their way into America sold illegally by criminal networks. The video reveals that due to unregulated and poor alcoholic products, over 15,000 Americans developed severe neurological disorders. Due to the low supply of alcoholic products and a huge demand, many low-quality alcoholic products started finding their way in the United States from countries such as Jamaica and Canada. Prohibition of alcohol in the beverage industry today can, therefore, lead to an increase in illegal activities in the industry. However, the repeal of the prohibition led to the reduction of illegal activities and corruption in the beverage industry (Bearce, p144). Although some of these activities and alcoholic products are still evident in the beverage industry, they are minimal compared to when the law was passed in the United States (Bearce, p145).


Based on the film and research, prohibition can negatively affect the consumption patterns in the beverage industry by lowering it, lead to the closure of companies in various sectors in the industry, contribute to reduced employment opportunities, and further increase illegal activities. There is, therefore, a need for policymakers and legislatures to ensure that they pass laws that work in favor of the beverage industry to prevent the sector from collapsing or not developing at the expected rate. The 18th Amendment from Burns’ documentary provides a good justification of what prohibition of alcoholic drinks can have in the beverage industry and the impact that it has on the future of the beverage industry. Today, the unintended consequences of the law can still be felt and there is a need to ensure such policies are effectively analyzed and implemented to protect the future of the industry.

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