21 March 2014


Sliders: Speakeasy

Let's begin with another round of
"What's wrong with this picture?"

This is the last Sliders episode I'll be writing about on Shredded Cheddar, but not the last of my TV posts. About a month ago, I realised there was another 90s series that: a) I didn't really watch back then, b) is episodic in format, and c) asks the question "What if . . .?" in its very intro. (Can you guess what it is???) And when I learned that it debuted the same year that Sliders Season 2 crashed and burned, I realised I had a strong candidate for my next project. If the pilot is halfway decent, I'll commit myself to blogging about the first season.

This is what's wrong with that picture

Is there any point in explaining the world building when the writers were clearly high? =P The nicest thing I could say about them is they probably weren't even trying with this one, so it's hardly a measure of how bad they are. But seriously, slot machines in phone booths is really pushing it.

When someone mentions Prohibition in the US, we think of the 1920s--but that's because it was the country's only "dry" decade. Had it not been repealed, the rest of US history would have moved on without it--and I'm willing to bet that this world's 1990s wouldn't look too different from our own. But to cash that bet in, I'd have to be able to say what role alcohol has had in shaping American society since 1933.

As fun as that would be to think about (and I'm really not being sarcastic), it would be a pointless exercise for this post, inasmuch as Prohibition is just the window dressing in this episode about wealthy organised crime families and a cash-strapped FBI. It's supposedly a huge enough problem for campaigning politicians to position themselves as tough on crime, unlike that softie Ronald Regan (I don't get the full implications, but the meaning is clear) . . . but all they're making me do is wonder just how bad a huge black market for alcohol would be. If we stay in this world and fast forward about two decades, will there be a hit show called Breaking Bad in which a Chemistry teacher cooks a signature blue "crystal moonshine"?

Seriously, what would a modern US in which alcohol sales are banned look like? Would there be people campaigning to have the "less addictive" beverages, like beer or mead, legalised, while still stigmatising all the "hard" stuff? Would jails be overcrowded with people whose only crime was sneaking a drink? Drawing parallels with the black market for drugs is a start, but if we get into the details of world building, we'd also have to imagine a US in which two black markets exist side-by-side: one for drugs and one for alcohol. How would they affect each other? Would they compete for customers or would the overlap be as minimal as that between coffee and cigarettes?

And what about the law-abiding folk who just deal with it and make up the majority of the population? We must consider weddings and other celebrations . . . the singles scene and the dating rituals . . . the "dry" versions of boeuf bourguignon and rum cake. And so on . . .

Then there is the reason Prohibition got off the ground in the first place. We can't imagine a world in which it was never repealed without considering the forces that would have protected it. So we'd have an organised religious element right along with all the organised crime. Can we base this alt-America on those modern-day Protestant communities which teach that Jesus turned water into grape juice at Cana?

I could keep asking questions all week, but it's really time to give it a rest. Maybe I'll have another ShredChedFanFicWriMo this November and produce some Sliders FF, but until then, I'm happy to let this be my last post on the series. Thanks for reading!

Your Turn to Slide: Which all-too-easily-abused but arguably benign substance would you be willing to use illegally if it were ever banned?


Belfry Bat said...

Open flames.

Enbrethiliel said...


You'd be quite the reckless one in that world! ;-)

r said...

Is the show Early Edition? I switched from watching Sliders to watching that back when it came out.

Sheila said...

Raw milk. :D

The difference between the prohibition of alcohol and that of drugs is that most people do partake of alcohol. You imagine most people just going along with the law, but as far as I know hardly anyone did if they could afford not to. At weddings, a flask would be passed around on the sly. Italian immigrants brewed wine in their bathtubs (!) and Appalachian farmers made moonshine. Those who couldn't get their hands on any of those drank diluted rubbing alcohol, and many died.

Since alcohol is a natural byproduct of cellular metabolism, easily produced by me in my own kitchen from legal ingredients, it is well-nigh impossible to ban. And it would take a much more effective ban to remove it from the culture such that people would think of alcohol the way they think of drugs. They would remember that their parents and grandparents drank it and were just fine, not drunks and not criminals. I imagine that sixty years of prohibition, if they could have made it last that long, would have turned out more or less like the first decade did. It would be the most flouted law in America.

However, there might well be some cross-pollination between the drug trade and the alcohol trade. After all, the same gangs who control the drug trade run guns and other illegal items on the side. Perhaps you would find yourself going to the same dealer for both, and the guy who sold you your moonshine might ask if he could interest you in some meth while you were there. It wouldn't surprise me to find that this increased the rate of drug abuse.

Yikes, this scenario makes my blood run cold. Because yes, the prisons would be chock full of poor people (the rich can always lawyer themselves out of a long sentence) who had done nothing wrong but have a drink. Or worse, make themselves a livelihood by brewing something. Did you know that in America the recommended sentence for selling drugs is 20 years, while that for assault is 12 months?

Yeah. I don't believe in using drugs, but I can't believe that the "war on drugs" is doing any good, and it's doing immeasurable harm.

DMS said...

As always, lots to think about! Very curious about the other series you are considering. Will you tell us even if you decide not to blog about it after watching the pilot? I hope so- because I want to know! :)

Enbrethiliel said...


R -- Got it in one! =D

Sheila -- I do recall reading that Prohibition banned the sale and transportation of alcohol, but couldn't really ban its production (because, as you've explained in detail, that's kind of impossible), so I probably shouldn't have imagined someone going to jail just for having a drink. But going to jail just for buying a drink isn't any better. There's your real victimless crime!

The only way I can imagine Prohibition gaining a real foothold in any culture is if its Protestant elements were strong enough. (With Catholics allowed to use wine for the Mass all throughout Prohibition, I doubt many of us would have be able to sustain a case against it.) Interestingly, this Sliders episode features Jews and Catholics as the leaders of the two feuding crime syndicates, but doesn't include any obvious Protestant touches.

Jess -- R just guessed correctly! =) I guess you could say it was my riddle of the month. ;-)

Sheila said...

Huh, it never occurred to me that the Catholics would have been exempt. No wonder it was the Catholic groups of immigrants who often ran the illegal production!

These days, Catholics and Protestants seem to team up on everything political. I see it as a problem -- just because we might agree on social elements, like abortion, doesn't mean we're operating from the same basic principles. The Catholic bishops have been loud about immigration reform, but the "religious right" is vehemently anti-immigration, so most Catholics go along with that without thinking how very un-Catholic -- even anti-Catholic -- it actually is.

Paul Stilwell said...

Prohibition did not come from Protestantism as much as it came from feminism. (Temperance movement and suffrage movement being Siamese twins)


Our "prohibition" today is not crystal meth but babies. Hello contraception. Thanks Feminists.

Enbrethiliel said...


OH-EM-GEE!!! I was aware that there were many suffragettes in the temperance movement, but I didn't think the two had anything significant in common. Then again, without looking it up, I believe Prohibition and women getting the vote happened in the same year! It's like those movie twins you and I look for, Stilwell, only they're in real life!!!

And now you're really making me want to write Sliders FF! LOL! But in this alternate universe, what other political gain would American women have had to have made between 1920 and 1933 in order to keep Prohibition from being repealed? Or rather, what happened between 1920 and 1933 in our world that made the suffragettes lose the second thing they had worked so hard for? And perhaps, what if there's another dimension in which Prohibition stuck around but women lost the vote???!!!???

Belfry Bat said...

This sounds like a likely case of the "converse" falacy.

Perhaps the overwhelming majority of temperantists were suffragettes, and perhaps most women were also suffragettes; but by no means need most women have been temperantists!

So, by simple "electoral maths": if men AND women equally and independantly vote, and more women admit alcohol than men repudiate it, then prohibition will be repealed in a few electoral cycles. Maybe it takes a couple of Senate cycles to readjust the Senate and get the right ballance of power and favour. That could be about twelve years! (I'm retrodicting, of course, not predicting, so all the above is philosophically worthless, but such a lot of fun)

Sheila said...

I think what happened was a major legislative push for temperance while there was no corresponding "anti-temperance" movement. The prohibitionists were working extremely hard for it, and everyone else was saying "silly people, that will never fly." I think we learned our lesson from that one that a dedicated minority can do pretty much whatever they want if no one is taking the trouble to oppose them.

However, this was never a direct vote, and I think that's important. The prohibitionists chose to amend the Constitution because they could do it simply by getting enough state legislatures to agree to it -- a much easier job than trying to convince 51% of Americans, which I'm sure they never could have done. That's why it was so easy to switch back, once it was real and people were upset about it.

Enbrethiliel said...


Bat -- It's only a fallacy if you assume that we're talking about all women, which would be the case only if all women were feminists. (Which is not so, has never been so, and will never be so.) But I think it's safe to say that all the suffragettes were "feminists"--as anachronistic as that might be.

Another distinction to be made is between temperance and Prohibition. The former is definitely a protestant thing, and in the US, it was likely spearheaded by men. The latter, on the other hand, was a political cause greatly driven by women. And I think that this happened because alcohol became associated with domestic violence and men's neglect of their families: in short, a "women's issue."

So we do have a parallel--or perhaps, a mirror image--in the way supposed prohibitions (Whee!) against oral birth control are linked with poverty and high death rates among women. Now, I don't think these are simply "women's issues" any more than I think the question of who gets to vote in a republic is a "women's issue," but politicians will pick pet causes.

So I'll see Stilwell's Siamese twins metaphor and raise him a Four Horsemen metaphor . . . except that I'll have to say Four Horsepersons. =P But at the moment we only have three . . .

So far, women have been told that: a) real power lies outside the home and that they must have a share in it; b) families should be socially engineered by governments; and c) real freedom is avoiding the responsibilities of a wife and mother. So what completes the model? Am I missing something obvious or has the fourth Horseperson just not galloped through town yet?

Sheila -- That's some interesting political maneouvering! What do you think would have had to happen to keep anti-temperance sentiment from growing and changing the Constitution back?

Also, do you think the shadow of Prohibition still falls heavily on US politics today?

Sheila said...

This isn't just something told to women, but a lie that is just devastating the world right now is that you can't live without sex. I have seen soberly proclaimed that if you can't get it with your spouse (say, if they are ill) then no one should be surprised if you cheat on them, because after all, that "pressure" has to go somewhere! Even on a Christian blog, I read that single people need ways to "relieve sexual tension," and you can use your imagination about what that might mean.

It's like people don't even realize the way our sex drive works, that the more you sublimate and dominate it, the LESS it bothers you. Whereas the more you let yourself be a slave to it, the more you "have to" submit to it.

And that's why birth control is seen as the ONLY answer to unwanted pregnancy, a lifesaving medication for some! As if there were NO other way mankind has discovered to keep from getting pregnant.

In answer to your question -- I do not think there could possibly have been a way, not with how very terribly it failed. 25% or less of the population might be able to amend the Constitution, but if 75% still want to drink, they will -- with all the awful results that would have, with it against the law. And even some of those who didn't want to drink would have to have seen what a failure it was.

It seems to me we have forgotten altogether about Prohibition, to our detriment. I suspect a similar thing would happen if we tried to ban guns, only worse. And of course the same thing HAS happened with drugs. But we just keep on our merry way banning stuff that we simply can't -- when the majority and societal consensus are both against you, you will fight a losing battle.

The temperance movement does still linger, though .... with certain groups still treating you like a pariah if you drink. And since drinking is seen as rebellious and transgressive, all the teenagers do it to excess, *of course.*

Enbrethiliel said...


I think you're right about Prohibition. If I ever do write that Sliders FF (says the blissfully deluded optimist), I'll probably have to change something at an even earlier point in US history so that Prohibition becomes more of a popular cause than the tyranny of a minority. And since that would involve giving protestant ideas greater weight in US culture, I might also have to remove the Catholic exemption, forcing the Mass underground. Would the laws have relaxed a bit by the 1990s? Perhaps . . . but a stigma might remain! Yeah, this is complicated! LOL!

Paul Stilwell said...

Perhaps the fourth horseperson (lol) is that Gaia must be given sacrifice for our ultimate salvation. So the earth's population must be reduced to 500 000.

Now I wonder if Prohibition was just one of the arms of Utopianism, of which another arm was forced sterilization and other eugenic programs which litter American history from around that same time period and on into the 70's.

I have this notion that if you were to take any one of the feminist popularizers of prohibition and ask about sterilizing the Unfit - well, "I'll bet my lunch money" (as Enbrethiliel said one time) that they would be all for it.

I mean, Prohibition was indeed not really about alcohol. It was about culling the ills of society, of which "demon liquor" became the scapegoat. So was eugenics and forced sterilization: it was about culling the herd, reducing the ills of society.

One famous feminist I believe was the founder of a certain (in)famous industry that is responsible for today's millions upon millions of abortions.

From this emerges the New Religion. Throughout the last century we weren't going down into the dark - no, we were emerging. Now time to worship Gaia.

Oh, and get ready for forced Vegetarianism!

Enbrethiliel said...


Why do I miss all the obvious things until you point them out??? Of course the suffragettes and the prohibitionists were also eugenicists!!! (Cue Bat's entrance through the belfry window in five . . . four . . . three . . . two . . .) I had cause to think of eugenics just last month, too, so I have no excuse for missing this . . .

Anyway, yes, the fourth horseperson is the idea that only "high-grade" individuals (which history shows us can easily be taken to mean "high-grade" races) should be allowed to breed. And it's still very prevalent! In fact, I was writing an Igor post on this exact "Earth Goddess" dogma just last month! (Don't bother looking. It remains in draft form as of this moment.)

It's getting harder and harder to wait for my bookstore to get me a copy of Jean Webster's Dear Enemy (a children's novel from the 1910s which brightly points out what a burden the "feeble-minded" are). Perhaps I should just read the online version, sans the author's charming illustrations, and be done with it!

Belfry Bat said...

Did somebody call me?

Oh, I was meaning to say that all I meant my previous comment to mean was not that we were committing a logical/set-theoretic fallacy, but perhaps the plotters of prohibition-and-universal-suffrage were. And that the latter proposition eventually scuttled the first.

Golly, but it takes a long time to simmer these ideas down to pronounceable bits!

But, now that you mention it, I wonder were the prohibisuffragenecists for or against the Gold Standard? Stillwell knows, of course, that, in the parlance of the times, that very discussion is a red herring (because it excludes the True Way), but... it's a fun one.

Enbrethiliel said...


Oh, my God, I don't understand.

Belfry Bat said...


See, if I don't try to simmer down the ideas to the main thing, things go on so long that I loose the train of my own thought; if I do, there's not enough left to understand how to get on the train.

What are we to do???

Enbrethiliel said...


Well, as long as you don't mind my medium-inappropriate use of a #OHMYGODIDONTUNDERSTAND hashtag now and then . . .