This Is Hilarious… But Please Don’t Laugh

Up until a couple of nights ago, the Ol’ Bloviator knew the movie Downfall purely as the source of dozens of parodied video excerpts in which the captions to Adolph Hitler’s enraged harangues during his final days have been overwritten to depict Hitler as a diehard college football fan who is just learning that his favorite team was upset by a prohibitive underdog or lost a big game by virtue of an egregious error by a player or coach. (Think here of Bama failing to cover a runback of a missed field goal, perhaps, or, if you must, a Georgia defensive back trying to intercept a pass he should have batted down but instead deflecting it to an Auburn receiver for the winning TD. Damn! That still hurts!)

The actual movie itself purports to show the last dark days in Hitler’s bunker leading up to his suicide after shooting his mistress-just-made-wife, Eva Braun. Although the whole portrayal is meant to be exceedingly grim, damned if the Ol’ Bloviator didn’t still find himself more than a little amused by Hitler’s tantrums and tirades. If the O.B. had been in that bunker and privy to the furious Fuhrer’s rants, he would never have maintained a straight face long enough  to die with the diehards via cyanide capsule, save perhaps one that  been administered against his will in suppository form. His demise would more likely have come from sudden-onset lead poisoning courtesy of a German Luger at close range.

We know, of course, that Hitler was a source of considerable mirth in his early days when he could be laughed off as just another deranged rabble rouser. Yet in the midst of the economic disaster, crushed national pride and devastated morale that was the Weimar Republic, his fury at the injustices visited on the fatherland by the Versailles Treaty after World War I and his dazzling certainty of German resurrection and redemption began to gain traction. Soon , he had a fervent following hanging on his every utterance. Some of these, including several of his co-habitants of the bunker, even wound up convincing themselves that life without Hitler would be unbearable, ultimately opting to join him in exiting this mortal coil of their own volition. The most disturbing scene in this thoroughly disturbing film has Hitler propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels’s wife, Magda, who has declared that she doesn’t want to live in a world without National Socialism, making sure that the couple’s six children are spared such a fate as well by methodically inserting a cyanide capsule between their teeth as they sleep and pushing down on their heads until she hears a sickening crunch. If you had any lingering doubts, this is the point where you are fully persuaded this film is not meant to be funny. One need not suggest that anything like the majority of Germans felt such a dedication to Hitler, but clearly enough of them did to allow him to lead their nation into destruction at the cost of millions of lives.

Yet another sad example of the consequences of simply laughing off extremist rhetoric and proposals comes from the American South at the end of the 19 Century. Some well-intentioned opponents of imposing racial discrimination by law, beginning with the railroads, sought to undermine such efforts with a healthy dose of reductio ad absurdum. Hence, a Charleston editor suggested in 1898 that “if there should be Jim Crow cars on the railroads, there should be Jim Crow cars on the street railways. Also on all passenger boats… Jim Crow waiting saloons at all stations and Jim Crow eating houses… Jim Crow sections of the jury box and a separate Jim Crow dock and witness stand and a Jim Crow Bible for witnesses to kiss.” Laughable as the editorialist might have found such a progression in 1898, as historian C. Vann Woodward pointed out, ere long, save for the separate witness stand, every presumed absurdity he conjured up “became in a very short time a reality… including the Jim Crow Bible.”

Since, as of the last pay stub, at least, the OB earns his livelihood by professing at history—and Southern history, at that—he should know full well by now that when something that seemed like a joke at the outset becomes a concrete reality, there is generally going to be Hell to pay. North Carolina, which has been going to Hell in a supersonic hand basket of late, even managed to get the draw on their neighbors to the immediate south by enacting a measure allowing permitted concealed weapons on playgrounds, school grounds, and, yes, you are reading correctly, bars as well. Several other states had preceded the Tar heels in their own willful descent into such lunacy, and not to be outdone, the venerable solons of the Palmetto  State declared it just ducky legally to tote your piece into places purveying strong drink of all sorts.  The O.B. cannot but recall that forcing patrons to surrender their six shooters upon entering the Long Branch Saloon struck Marshall Dillon and Miss Kitty as a wise and necessary precaution back in the Dodge City of yore, but the wannabe gunslingers in today’s state legislatures are apparently too young  to remember “Gunsmoke,” even in reruns. Although in both states, proprietors are free to ban guns in their establishments, Pete Matsko, owner of Backstreets Pub and Grille in Clemson, S. C.  has come under withering fire from gun crazies all over the country for posting what is admittedly a somewhat immoderately worded notice prohibiting patrons from bringing their guns into his place of business.

Thinking to reach across state lines in a show of support for Mr. Matsko, the O.B. actually attempted to round up some of the hollow-leggedest beer drinkers he knows for a little “solidarity forever” road trip over to Clemson. His plan came a’ cropper, however, when each of the assembled crew, not excluding the O.B., insisted that they could properly  demonstrate their solidarity with the embattled barkeep only by prodigious consumption of the fruit of the hop as served in his own establishment. Thus, alas, did a noble and idealistic impulse wither and die for the mere lack of a designated driver.

As steady patrons of this site should readily attest, the O.B. normally tries to steer himself away from blanket generalizations or stereotypes. In this instance, however, he is not only willing but itchin’ to shed that inhibition. Accordingly, he herewith declares forthrightly that he is flatly in accord with Mr. Matsko’s opinion of the type of people who have been agitating so fervently to take their guns where they clearly don’t belong. Indeed, he thinks Matsko’s appraisal of the types who would actually carry a concealed weapon into a bar is, if anything, far too charitable. And, Honey Child, don’t you fool yourself into thinking that for most of the folks who agitated for the sanction to do that very thing, this is merely about some philosophical abstraction where it’s more important to know you have a certain right than it actually is to exercise it. Beyond that, let’s be clear that, regardless of what they manage to say with a straight face, they ain’t taking their guns into a bar or any other public setting because they actually feel the need for protection. What they really need is some reason not simply to feel confident but to feel cocky, cocky enough even to do themselves a little bullying, perhaps. (Stay with him now, for the O.B. is about to blaze a trail that he thinks will actually lead us out of this utterly idiotic predicament.) You might think that carrying a concealed weapon would surely git ‘r done cockiness-wise, but in all too many cases, it won’t. How are people going to know you as someone not to be trifled with or crossed if they can’t see your damn gun? Even if they spy that strange bulge in your pocket, they might just assume, a la Mae West, that you’re simply glad to see them. These pathetically self-loathing but nonetheless  dangerous people are just like an old perv clad only in a raincoat, black socks, and wingtips—they’ve got something they want desperately to show you, and it isn’t going to require much of a premise for them to succumb to the temptation to flash their 9mms.

If the bearers of arms are so keen on showcasing their pieces, why not let ’em? Better yet, why not make ’em? Personally, the O.B. is inclined to believe that pulling out a concealed weapon is actually fraught with more homicidal potential than simply sporting one on your hip where everybody can see it. Mandating the “open carry” of legally acquired and registered firearms would at least give the folks who ain’t packing a chance to see who and how many others are. That way, they can make a truly informed decision about how they really feel about downing a Bud and an overpriced burger beside a guy sporting a Glock. Although the gun bullies are barking louder right now, it might well be that this “if you got it, [you must] flaunt it” approach to handling this issue would ultimately reveal that there are more restaurant and bar patrons who actually object to eating and imbibing in a room full of lethal weapons than there are folks who really get off on dining in a setting laced with the scent of gun oil. Besides, although some laws, like those in the Carolinas, forbid people bearing arms from actually consuming alcohol in a bar, how is the proprietor to identify a scofflaw in this situation if his weapon is concealed? Of all the patent absurdities swirling about this latest triumph of the lunatic fringe, this one may actually cap the keg. While it is surely reasonable to presume that a person who frequents bars is likely not a teetotaler in the first place, it is truly an Olympian leap of faith to expect that he will become one in exchange for the freedom to take his firearm into a place where  he must sit sober whilst those around him are getting soused, especially when said firearm is concealed. Don’t know about you, but it is a little hard for the O.B. to picture a man shoving a pistol into his coat pocket and saying “Honey, I’m headin’ down to the bar for a glass of ice water.”

In the O.B.’s mind, Tennessee state senator Mae Beavers had the right idea when she introduced a bill that would overturn requirements that would-be gun purchasers go through a background check and training and then buy a permit before they are allowed to carry a firearm in public places. Senator Beavers wants to scrap all that red tape and safety mumbo jumbo and require a permit only if the owner wishes to conceal the weapon. In a predictable show of courage and good sense, Beaver’s colleagues in the state senate embraced her measure by a vote of twenty-five to two. Regrettably, the Tennessee House failed to grasp the obvious merits of the uninhibited “open-carry” provision, and the measure was, dare I say, “shot down,” in committee.

Close on the heels of Ms. Beavers’ s abortive measure came Georgia’s so-called “guns everywhere” law, which allowed for guns in bars as well as churches, although, thanks to a fleeting resurgence of reason, college campuses were spared, for now at least, the fate of becoming free-fire zones. (Readers of the previous posting on this site should be able to infer the O. B.’s take on such an outcome.) Lest we be lulled into thinking that our current set of politicos have utterly outdone themselves in scaling the twin peaks of hilarity and hypocrisy, we should take note of the Georgia Republicans, who cast their proposal  to allow guns in churches as a means of redressing wrongs done to black people in the Reconstruction era, when whites bent on their re-subjugation sometimes burst into black churches (which were seen as hotbeds of anti-white activism) bent on disarming any black person found bearing a firearm.

State Rep. Dustin “Dusty” Hightower, R-Carrollton, reportedly explained that allowing Georgians to worship with pistols in their pockets and purses is really a civil rights issue:

“It [the prohibition against guns in churches] was placed there to hinder people during the Jim Crow era. It was there to hinder African-Americans from exercising their rights. This has no business to be here. This is a true private property issue that was done under false pretenses then and I think that’s really the history of where that comes from and so we’re trying to simply say – we’re trying to give that private property back to where it deserves to be and let each individual private property owner make that determination on their own.”

This sudden surge of concern among Georgia Republicans for black rights might be a bit more encouraging were it not for the fact many of these folks who are now purportedly keen to make amends for earlier efforts to deprive blacks of their Second Amendment rights to bear arms are some of the same people working non-stop to throw up every possible impediment to blacks exercising their 15th Amendment rights to cast a ballot. Along these lines, our good buddy Rep. Hightower pushed to allow the boundaries of voting precincts to coincide with the boundaries of gated communities and to permit placement of polling places in such communities which, even when unlocked, are not noticeably welcoming environments for minorities. He also voted to reduce unemployment benefits, co-sponsored a resolution asking Governor Nathan Deal for “continued action for the protection of Georgians from the unconstitutional federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” and resisted efforts to expand Medicaid eligibility among Georgia’s poor. For good measure, ol’ Dusty, the little people’s new best friend, was one of several Georgia legislators who actually called for the repeal of the 17th Amendment, a move that would strip voters of their right to choose their own U.S. senators and return that prerogative to their always friendly and sympathetic state legislators.

Not only is the truth often stranger than fiction, but it is sometimes so alternately funny and frightening that you can forget it isn’t fiction. As a mere chap, the O.B. heard the preacher light into the congregation about the danger of laughing at sin. This hit pretty close to home, because even at that tender age, he had already concluded that sin was frequently not only funny but fun it its own right. Although the O.B. and his pastor probably had dramatically divergent views on what was sin as well as what was funny, he does see now where the ol’ Rev. was coming from, at least. Finding too much amusement in something you deplore can easily deaden your sense of what is deplorable and smooth down feathers best left ruffled. William Faulkner once observed that “there’s not too fine a distinction between humor and tragedy.” Both were tightly juxtaposed in much of his fiction, but in the O.B.’s take, at least, Mr. Billy never let the former blind the reader to the latter.