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Cultural Schizophrenia

July 21, 2006
Just as a simple sketch of the Eiffel Tower conjures Paris, France and romance, a simple sketch of a dryly wry martini conjures sophistication, savvy and wit, a picture of a pink cosmopolitan suggests fashion sense, sex and urbanity, an image of toasting champagne glasses implies festive, familial and friendly celebrations, a mug of frosty beer likewise bespeaks camaraderie, conversation and conviviality, a photo of a juicy, simmering steak engenders mouth-watering, memorable meals had and to be had, a representation of an ice cream cone connotes innocent indulgence and carefree summers, an image of a cigar, quelle horreur, symbolizes deal-making, après-meal satisfaction and connoisseurs of enjoyment anda Toulouse Lautrec poster of dancing patrons embodies fun, exhilaration and spirited excitement. So it is with great irony that these icons of good cheer and hospitality are featured and toasted in latter and present-day literature and art and yet are roasted and decried by anti-pleasure prohibitionists.

We are surely in a national cultural crisis with rampant hypocrisy replacing reasoned enjoyment of daily life. But then again, maybe it has always been so in our United States of Puritanism. December 5, 2003 was a real reason to bring out the booze and raise a toast. That was the day that we celebrated the 70th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition. The ignoble experiment that failed so miserably and yet is increasingly rearing its ugly head in today’s cultural clash of the prohibitionists versus the pro-freedom of choice libertarians. In “The Day the Country Went Wet Again,” (The New York Times, December 6, 2004) author Michael Brick states, “Long before no-smoking, Prohibition had people sneaking around if they wanted to have an alcoholic drink. Secret taverns hid inside the town houses of 52nd street and behind facades in Greenwich Village, on just about every block.”
As stated in my first Beverage Journal article, it is human nature that the more something is denied, the more it is desired and often the more it is abused. On the December 7th airing of CBS’ wonderful weekend show, Sunday Morning, the erudite and debonair host, Charles Osgood made a similar statement when discussing the abysmal failure of the 18th Amendment, noting the appeal of the negated.

In the middle of a hot August 2004, the head of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) appeared on the Today show raising a ruckus on the evils of imbibing ice cream. Ever charming Katie Couric challenged the guest, questioning the need to disparage one of life’s surest, simplest pleasures at exactly the time of the year when the cooling effects of ice cream are most desired. That day sub-consciously perverse and subversive, I ordered and enjoyed the only ice cream of the summer, simply because it was ordained to be wicked.

And then there are ashtrays. Once collectibles of places and memories of great times with names and designs creatively bespeaking their origins, they are now weapons of mass summonses. You gotta’ laugh. Is this not the height of absurdity? In the former New York City of urbanity, over 200 summonses have been issues for ashtray violations. Again, according to The New York Times, Clyde Haberman in his December 2, 2003 “NYC” article quotes an incredulous Graydon Carter, esteemed editor of the legendary Vanity Fair, “I keep them around to remind me of my youth. They had not been used and did not have any cigarette butts in them when we were fined. Any city that allows you to keep a loaded gun in your office but not an ashtray is one with its priorities seriously out of whack.”

And so it goes, our priorities are indeed skewed. The health risks of murder and mayhem abound in our cities but menu labeling, steak disparagement and smoking prohibitions take political precedent. And as with my decadent ice cream orgy, I have never wanted a cigarette as much as since the Smokefree Ban Act of 2003 was recently introduced in the District of Columbia. Notwithstanding the fact that I have happily and healthily not puffed for three years, my desire to smoke has increased as the freedom of choice to smoke has been threatened. Thankfully, DC ‘s astute Mayor and certain smart city council members understand the economic and civil liberty infringement implications of a wholesale ban and prevailed this time. Please note that my views are not a paean to the unhealthy habits of smoking or overindulging alcohol or food but rather a paean to the preservation of personal responsibility for personal actions.

To quote the impassioned Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, “They can’t handle the truth.”The truth is that the waging of the current war by CSPI of warning, whining and playing the blame-the-hospitality industry-game will not change human behavior.As previously noted and academically verified, Prohibition did not “just not work,” it backfired disastrously to the detriment of the common good and daily quality of life. Yet our country’s current continuing cultural schizophrenia never ceases to amaze and even amuse. With possession of ashtrays in New York as a punishable offence, the aforementioned simple sketches of pleasurable activities may soon be censored, so hide that Impressionist painting of patrons drinking, eating, smoking and dancing, the anti-pleasure police are coming.