kkkclub kkkclub
Cartoon CultureClassic

Join the KKK (That’s Krazy Kat Klub, You Racist!)

There’s some ugly stuff that can occasionally be found in the dusty bins of animation history. The Vintage Cinema Ads Facebook page uncovered a wildy inappropriate ad promoting Krazy Kat theatrical animated shorts. The double-meaning of this ad would have been more evident at the time of its publication in 1925 when the Ku Klux Klan claimed millions of Americans as members and exerted significant influence over American culture. Also, whoever made the was likely unaware—and most likely didn’t care—that Krazy Kat creator George Herriman was of mixed-race Creole lineage.

(h/t Charles Brubaker)

  • Geoff

    Perhaps it’s my own naïveté, but I take this as an honest, poorly thought out mistake.

    • Brian O.

      Highly unlikely this was a mistake. That header was meant to grab. If not, why bother with an acronym?

    • I’m afraid Amidi’s analysis is probably correct, as the Klan was very much at the height of its prosperity in Herriman’s time. However, the author’s intentions were likely not sinister; the Klan’s official rhetoric was never so fiery or illegal as its private activities (at the time their official efforts were mainly aimed at limiting Catholic influence in politics).

      While modern hindsight makes ignorance of the Klan’s true nature seem far-fetched, the reality was that the activities of the Klan, while well-documented in various political and legal organizations, were still unknown to much of the common population. As late as the 1970s, the Klan was still recruiting members under the guise of simply being a secret club for Protestants*.

      All of this is to say that for the author of this advertisement, while the double-meaning of K.K.K. was almost certainly intentional, it most likely held no more significance than if he’d made a pun about masonry and the Freemasons.

      *My own uncle — who, granted, lived in a rural area — was approached by a recruiter and seriously considered joining, under the impression that it was an after-work fraternal organization, “like the Moose Lodge.”

    • Inkan1969

      Amid has a point, though, about the KKK really have a lot of power and influence during the 1920’s. So the makers of this ad might’ve been doing a casual pun on what was then an ubiquitous cultural icon.

  • Bruce R

    Wiki says: A double entendre is a figure of speech in which a spoken phrase is devised to be understood in either of two ways. Typically one of the interpretations is rather obvious whereas the other is more subtle. The more subtle of the interpretations may have a humorous, ironic, or risqué purpose. It may also convey a message that would be socially awkward, or even offensive, to state directly. (The Oxford English Dictionary describes a double entendre as being used to “convey an indelicate meaning”.) Current commercials continue to use it. Whether beer, perfume, etc. Does “Prosperity Group” mean “White superiority” aka KKK? If that is your belief,then it could be argued that the character design of Krazy Kat is in “blackface”. How about the crows in “Dumbo”? Animation, and “cartoon” in general has a long history of this. 1925 was not a good period for race, but it seems the country has not progressed so far along listening to current sentiment and political rhetoric. ( food stamp, welfare mothers) If these early ads are left in the dust bins maybe they will be the period curiosities, discovered by enthusiasts, that they are.
    How can we make the situation better, not continue to promote what we know is a mistake?

  • Michael

    Please at least consider the possibility that this was not only deliberate but a deliberately ironic, sarcastic dig at the KKK. The Klan was far from universally popular in its heyday, to say the least. Many at the time recognized them as domestic terrorists, and many considered them ridiculous with their costumes and made-up titles and rituals. These people had to be circumspect in tweaking the Klan when they were a powerful political force (not to mention being violent thugs) and sometimes in looking back we miss the details. Every generation seems to think it invented irony, double meanings, and subversive messages, but even our grandparents had them.

    Maybe Amid’s reading is right and mine is wrong; neither of us knows. But boy do I hate it when people say “in the Sixties everyone was a hippie and had long hair” or “in the Twenties everyone supported the Klan because they were all bigots” and real history gets flattened.

    • Polecat

      “Every generation seems to think it invented irony, double meanings, and subversive messages, but even our grandparents had them.”

      Well, that’s completely true, Michael! People probably don’t even realize just how blatantly offensive cartoons could be back then–I don’t mean racially either. Google “Little Bosko says the F-word 1929” and you’ll see what I mean.

  • Joel

    I’d join a “Krazy Kat” club in a heartbeat, provided it wasn’t called the “K.K.K.”

  • Posted the rare KKKK (Krazy Kat Kiddies Klub) membership card om my blog a while ago: http://sekvenskonst.blogspot.se/2012/12/kkkk.html

  • I feel like it’s more of a sarcastic jab at the KKK. If the author revered or respected them in any way, I don’t think he would have used them as subject for a pun. It seems pretty similar in tone to the title of this article to me.

  • Slight footnote: I know you were putting in that last sentence to point out the irony in this card, but it should be noted that no one back then knew about Herriman’s ethnic background as he hid it for all of his life. Only after his death did historians do the research. A minor quibble, but like Krazy might say, “Fects iz fects.”