There’s usually no accounting for comic tastes.
There is, however, plenty to account for conflicting views among Americans of different races on different topics — including what is and isn’t funny about the Ku Klux Klan.
The Conference of National Black Churches aims to bridge — or at least illuminate — persistent opinion gaps with a “cross-racial dialogue” here from today through Thursday. The effort, based at the Charleston Marriott on Lockwood Drive, includes an ecumenical service at 7 tonight at Mother Emanuel AME Church on Calhoun Street with this noble-cause title: “The Healing of Our Nation: Race & Reconciliation.”
So how do we reconcile the perceptions — and misperceptions? — that keep driving America’s black-and-white divisions?
How do we reconcile bigotry-based slaughter at Mother Emanuel six months ago with racial attitudes that are so much better than they were five decades ago?
And how do we reconcile differing reactions to last week’s news about Citadel cadets playing dress-up as Klansmen on social, though routinely antisocial, media?
Were those cadets just trying to be funny in a twisted, sophomoric and offensive way?
Was it another example of trying to be funny by poking fun at the Klan?
Way back when mostly Southern segregationists made a futile last stand against the Civil Rights Movement, the KKK suffered an image downgrade — from white-supremacist night riders to be feared to loathsome, ridiculous creeps to be mocked.
For instance, while riding through North Carolina as a kid in 1963, I saw this revealing roadside sign:
“The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan Is Watching You.”
Actually, the knights should have been watching their grammar.
But the Klan’s descent into the rampantly ridiculed realm couldn’t — and still can’t — erase its shameful legacy as a terrorist organization that fed on a vicious mob mentality.
Name the actor who plays then-Cmdr. David G. Farragut in a TV episode that first aired a half century ago. Hint: It ran again five nights ago on the Encore Western Channel, with the future Union Navy (though born in Tennessee) Civil War hero saying while backing down a vigilante leader (answer at column’s end): “That’s the way you lose a mob, McCartney. First one man comes to his senses, then two, then a dozen, then a hundred.”
Back to type-casting the KKK as the butt of jokes:
In 1974’s “Blazing Saddles,” Mel Brooks’ founding-father contribution to crude-comedy cinema, Bart (Cleavon Little) and Jim, aka “The Waco Kid” (Gene Wilder), spot a couple of Kluxers clad in robes that bear the words “Have a Nice Day” over smiley-face emblems.
Bart and Jim lure that pair of losers behind a boulder, then after an unseen, but not unheard, scrap, emerge in the KKK outfits to blend in with a vast array of thugs that state Attorney General Hedley Lamar (Harvey Korman) is recruiting. The villains’ mission:
Destroy Rock Ridge to show its folly in hiring a black man — Bart — as its sheriff.
And the Klan’s historic mission of violent intimidation leaves many folks — and not just black ones — seeing it as no laughing matter.
Hey, some folks don’t get the joke on the Third Reich in Brooks’ movies and smash Broadway hit “The Producers,” which I saw in 2002 at the grand old St. James Theatre in Manhattan, either.
Again, to each her or his own sense of humor.
Yet if you don’t like “Springtime for Hitler,” the hilarious play within the play of “The Producers,” why not?
Still, not all gags about the KKK — or Nazis — are OK.
And if you want to reconcile your own racial notions with those of others, try seeing the world — past, present and future — through their eyes.
Gee, take a week off, and all heck breaks loose.
Three days before those cadets made KKK-themed news, Donald Trump issued a statement calling “for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”
Then “The Donald” reiterated that appalling stance a few hours later during a speech here on the USS Yorktown.
OK, so radical Islam is waging war on us, whether we want to effectively wage it back or not. So we shouldn’t have a wide-open border, and should be especially wary about letting people who kill in the name of Allah from entering the U.S.
But before falling into the scary modern mob mentality that Trump is encouraging, keep in mind that lots of Muslims — including many in our armed forces — are still on our side. Keep in mind, too, that religious liberty is a national treasure.
And keep in mind an instructive exchange between host Chris Wallace and the GOP front-runner two days ago on “Fox News Sunday.”
Wallace: “Let’s talk practically about how your plan would work. Someone wants to come to the U.S. How do you find out if they’re Muslim? Do you ask them?”
Trump: “No, you do more than that. You have a surveillance system and you check things, you have papers, and you have documents, and you go through a process, which we don’t do well right now.”
So what about the millions of Muslims already here?
Following Trump’s logic, how long until we start rounding them up?
And how long until true constitutional conservatives “figure out what is going on” with Trump?
Ronald Reagan plays Farragut and William Bramley plays McCartney in “The Battle of San Francisco Bay,” a “Death Valley Days” episode that first aired in 1965. A year later, Reagan was elected governor of California.
Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.