This article, published in Prohibition in the United States, focuses on multiple failures of the Prohibition movement. It offers historical background that contextualizes the time period of The Public Enemy, explaining the rationale behind Prohibition, in addition to its connection to organized crime.
The article mentions that in the months immediately following Prohibition, alcohol consumption in the United States decreased. Yet, demand for beer and liquor soon skyrocketed, and people began clamoring for illegal sources of alcohol. The article explains that new criminal networks were quickly erected to satisfy this increasing demand. For instance, Chicago gangster Al Capone was one of many mob leaders who capitalized on this particular black market, ‘bootlegging’ alcohol to sell to the masses. The widespread activities of Capone’s gang would not have been financially viable without the group’s involvement in illicit alcohol sales. In general, Prohibition is credited with bringing previously marginalized gangs in touch with life in main stream America. As a result of Prohibition, various gangs in urban areas, particularly in cities such as Chicago or New York, rose to prominence, and their names entered the everyday vernacular.
This piece is an important reference for my paper. It offers an objective historical explanation as to why Prohibition allowed gang life in America to thrive. The Public Enemy acts as a microcosm of this change. When Tom Powers and Matt Doyle were children in the pre-Prohibition era, their crimes were petty and seemingly random. However, after Prohibition was passed, gangs took on a more central role in the film. Powers and Doyle were granted important roles in organized crime. Procuring illegal alcohol endowed gangs – and the boys – with a sense of purpose.
Essentially, Prohibition was a drastic social change that thrust Americans into a life of crime. This document, by exhibiting a direct correlation between Prohibition and an increase in crime, reveals changes in America’s social environment that bear responsibility for the boys’ decision to join a gang.