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Boardwalk Empire: Feminist Nostalgia Or Misogynistic Fantasy?

Boardwalk-EmpireLast week I finally got to watch the first season of the latest HBO night time soap, ahem, drama, Boardwalk Empire. If you are unfamiliar, it takes place in 1920s Atlantic City, NJ, and follows the corrupt Enoch “Nucky” Thompson (played by Steve Buscemi) as he rules Atlantic City, living in the boardwalk Ritz-Carlton Hotel as he makes money as a bootlegger at the start of the Prohibition, and skillfully plays politicians like marionettes as women (finally) get the vote.

Though the show, at its heart, is about the men who ran Atlantic City, with bits and pieces about Chicago and New York (Meyer Lansky, “Lucky” Luciano, and Al Capone all have minor roles as characters in the series), the portrayal of women is fascinating. The Women’s Temperance League is shown as a strong political force, though the leader is often mollified by Thompson, who profits greatly from the increased prices he can charge for the liquor he sells by the barrel to casinos and others, thanks to the Prohibition. Nucky congratulates women on getting the vote — though he continues to show that their ignorance of world politics makes them easy marks for his manipulations, in his quest to gain total power over Atlantic City.

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