Stumbling blocks are useful. I should like to admit that I’ve been a little frustrated with the progress I’ve made in my study of speakeasies, prohibition, bar culture, and media theory. For just a few reasons. Firstly, there’s simply so much to study that it’s been difficult honing in on what the focus of my study would ultimately be. Even while running the risk of oversimplification:

How, historically, the Volstead Act of 1919 fed the culture of the Roaring Twenties before the Great Depression, with regards to jazz, women’s rights, literature, and language.

How alcohol and the pub figure into the Habermasian  concept of the public space and how that forms the Self (of course, correct me if I’m wrong here)

How the speakeasy is deeply entrenched in social consciousness because of the Romantic view of the bootlegger/gangster and the counterpublic of organized crime. Gangsters like Al Capone and Bugsy Malone.

How all this contributes to a kind of cultural memory unique to cities that finds the idea of the speakeasy so easy to mediate and commercialize in terms of modern night life.

And how the speakeasy today poses new questions of what is being mediated, what is being resisted, and why. After all, there’s prevailing need to break the law, and yet city life today seems so enamored of the secret place one can buy a cocktail.

The second most pertinent question is how one even maps any of this? Where do you even begin? I’m still grappling with that particular problem, but I think I’ve made some progress on the first.

After last night’s PechaKucha panels and the welcome commentary, I thought more about my intention of trying to spacialize the speakeasies of the past and the speakeasies of the present in such a way that they become conversant about “who” they are. As in, what purpose they serve(d), what that says about their given cultural context, and what has been gained and lost in the time between. Obviously, it’s very difficult to have ideas themselves have a dialogue outside of the realm of fiction, but after having a conversation with Jane, I thought about interviewing people about what draws them to speakeasies (surviving or faux) now. Telling personal stories may be able to bridge the gap between past and present, exposing the flows in space and time that show the development of the speakeasy as media. Maybe.

What’s more, in those interviews, I could maybe show these people some kind of rich multimedia experience like sound, video, and newspaper clippings to show that “this happened here.” In this way, my focus needn’t be on particular facets of the history of Prohibition such as the Harlem Renaissance however useful that knowledge is, but rather on people experiencing it it then and now.

With that in mind, mapping these experiences should be easier and more satisfying because it answers the space-time question. Focusing on present-day individuals experiencing a history is a way of presenting the basemap that shows a journey through time in a powerful way.