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Brotherhood of Funny Hats
Who illustrates this trope the best? We do!

You think they look funny, what with their silly hats and their little carts. If you knew what those hats actually stood for, you'd never laugh at anything, ever again...
—Flavor text for the "Fraternal Orders" card, from the Collectible Card Game Illuminati: New World Order

In the media, fraternal orders and secret societies tend to go one of two ways: they're either a front for a sinister and fearful Ancient Conspiracy, or they're... the Brotherhood of Funny Hats.

These guys are more interested in living it up and "having some fun with the guys." (Er, platonically.) They go to lodge meetings (wearing funny hats, of course), throw wild parties (which may or may not conflict with the schedules of the protagonists and necessitate a Two-Timer Date, if they're members), memorize the new secret handshakes, and put new members through convoluted, embarrassing, and/or painful hazing rituals. If they pull any strings, they do it for members of the brotherhood because hey, they're just those kinds of guys.

It's not all fun and games, though. Sometimes there's a fierce pecking order in place, with more ambitious (and less scrupulous) members trying to claw their way to the top. And on rare occasions, the image of drunken, loveable middle-aged men is just an act, and they really are a front for an Ancient Conspiracy.

While this is by no means a Dead Horse Trope there is apparently something a little retro to it, and such societies seem to appear more frequently in works set in The Fifties (such as American Graffiti or Peggy Sue Got Married) than in works set in set in the present.

See also Gang of Hats.

Examples

Comic Books
  • The Knights of the Golden Light in Strangehaven

Film
  • Laurel and Hardy were members of the titular order in their movie Sons of the Desert. It was such a success that their fan club Appreciation Society took the same name.
    • In a short with a similar theme, they belonged to a lodge who wore British style "Hunting Pink" and sang A Hunting We Will Go at the start of each meeting.
    • Interesting to note that Oliver Hardy was a Freemason in Real Life.
  • The fraternal order to which Peggy Sue's grandfather belongs in Peggy Sue Got Married. "Girl's gone — let's play cards!"

Literature
  • In The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks by E. Lockhart, the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds is pretty much a drinking society with some elaborate, silly rituals (some of which turn out to be meaningful) that occasionally pulls lame pranks... until Frankie takes charge. Then the pranks become epic and politically charged.
  • Terry Pratchett's Going Postal features a sequence where the protagonist is initiated into the postmen's secret society, which involves an ominous-sounding and rather painful hazing ritual known as "The Postman's Walk". It's mentioned he's previously joined several Brotherhoods of Funny Hats with names like The Men of the Furrow, as a prelude to defrauding the other members.
    • As mentioned in Lords and Ladies, Lancre, centre of all rural folklore, has a Brotherhood of Funny Hats so ancient and secret it doesn't even have a name. According to The Discworld Companion their regular meetings at an earthworks called The Long Man may be an ancient rite, or simply represent man's ancient desire to get out of the house and have a couple of pints.
    • And Ankh-Morpork, as shown in Guards! Guards!!, has many secret societies, most of whose members would like to be part of an Ancient Conspiracy, but are really just in it for the mysterious robes. And in one case, in the society that is important to the plot and winds up being incinerated by the dragon it summoned, to chant "mystic prunes".
    • And this pretty much describes how the Unseen Univserity was run before Archchancellor Ridicully came into the picture, a bunch of wizard who were only concerned with eating, sleeping, wearing the clothes that pointed out that they were wizards... Oh, and moving higher in the University by making an opening with the "removal" of senior wizards.
  • Pierre Bezukhov joins the Freemasons in War and Peace at the insistence of one of his Obi Wans, to find some guys are actually into it and other guys...not so much. He gets in a huff later when Boris joins the Freemasons purely to advance his social standing.
  • In Teresa Edgerton's Goblin Moon, the Glassblowers guild has an offshoot of scholars and wearers of goofy ceremonial robes, paralleling what the Real Life Freemasons are like.
  • Sinclair Lewis' Babbitt explains in bitingly satirical terms the importance of the Brotherhood of Funny Hats to the upstanding 1920s businessman. The protherhoods to which Babbitt himself belongs—the Elks and Rotary—aren't particulalry BOFH-ish, but he does mention that the Masons, Shriners, etc., serve the same purpose and which club you join is more or less inconsequential.
  • In Stark, Ben Elton has a character attend a meeting of the Ancient Loyal and Stupid Order of Dingoes. Many of these are also members of the Chapel of the Charitable Chickens who sing The honourable Cluck Cluck Song every hour on the hour.
    • The point is made that in small-town Australia there isn't much to do except belong to funny clubs.

Live-Action TV
  • The Honeymooners featured a fraternal order known as The Raccoon Lodge.
  • Each episode of The Red Green Show ends with a meeting of the Possum Lodge, whose motto is "Quando omni flunkus, moritati" (pseudo-Latin for "When all else fails, play dead").
  • One episode of Mamas Family featured Thelma infiltrating a snake-themed Brotherhood her son had joined, called "The Order of the Cobra".
  • Also, a You Go Girl episode of Punky Brewster started with Henry coming back from his meeting of the Brotherhood of Funny Hats, complete with ridiculous bison-headdress.
  • The Andy Griffith Show had an episode where Howard Sprague joins an order of which Andy and Goober are members. They only seem to wear the silly robes when they're deciding whether to accept a new member.
  • Greek offers many Fraternities/Sororities of Funny Hats. You've got the Animal House frat, the Preppy frat, the Geek frat, the Jock frat, the Pretty Girl sorority, the Slutty sorority, etc.
  • Howard Cunningham on Happy Days was a Grand Poobah of Leopard Lodge No. 462. More than one episode revolved around the lodge's annual Poobah Doo Dah.
  • Parodied in The Thin Blue Line with Grim's group, "The Todgers", an exaggerated expy of the Masons whose rituals involve wearing a dress and kissing a frozen turkey's bottom.
  • In Everybody Loves Raymond, Frank Barone belongs to one of these. Though actual funny hats were in short supply, the geriatric members of the group made up for it with activities like swimming in the nude.
  • Married... with Children's National Organization of Men Against Amazonian Masterhood, or NO MA'AM for short is supposed to fight the increasing power of women all over society. But when it comes down to it, they are just there for drinking beer.
  • Saturday Night Live has The Badger Convention, a Brotherhood of Funny Hats that goes around annoying people with childish pranks [http://snltranscripts.jt.org/80/80dbadger.phtml]
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus includes the famous Ministry of Silly Walks. Lampshaded in "Live from the Grill-O-Mat" with the Royal Society for Putting Things on Top of Other Things, when John Cleese is questioned why his Staffordshire branch has not done anything.
    John Cleese: Well, Mr. Chairman; it's just that most of the members in Staffordshire feel...the whole thing's a bit silly.
    All: [Offended] Silly?!
    Graham Chapman: I suppose it is a bit. What have we been doing wasting our lives with all this nonsense? Right; OK, meeting adjourned forever!
    • The Masons also appear in the Architect's Sketch, including weird handshakes.. and de-programming masons (animated).
  • Hayden's boss in Coach was a member of one of these. Hayden was invited to one meeting to make a speech in favor of his boss becoming the new head of the order, and ended up getting appointed leader for life because their goose mascot honked during his speech.
  • The 'Keepers of the Kingdom' fill this particular role in the Riget-inspired Kingdom Hospital: a secret order of people dedicated to keeping the hospital running well, at all costs. Stegman is eventually invited into the group; it doesn't end well for him.

Tabletop Games
  • Secret Societies in the role-playing game Paranoia all attempt to achieve Ancient Conspiracy status, but far more often end up as examples of this trope instead.
  • As illustrated by the page quote, the Fraternal Orders from Illuminati: New World Order. Given the All Conspiracy Theories Are True nature of the game, they were probably intended to represent the Freemasons, but come across as being more like Shriners. Like all the other groups in the game, they end up as puppets of a more Ancient Conspiracy.

Theatre
  • In Bye Bye Birdie, Rose bursts in on a meeting of Shriners after dumping Albert F. Peterson, and teases them mercilessly—until they get sufficiently excited that she has to fend them off instead.

Video Games
  • The Order of the Harvest Moon (no relation) from the adventure game Harvester is the sinister version. The initiation process requires you to commit vandalism, breaking and entering, petty larceny, arson, and manslaughter, and the Order turns out to be a front for a cult of nihilists who have trapped you in a VR simulation with the intent of driving you crazy and turning you into a serial killer.
  • Suikoden V has a rare distaff version. SAPPHIRE is the Secret Alliance for the Protection of Pretty Hunks In Real Endangerment. They consist of various female characters who enjoy ogling male characters. Their motto is "To observe! To protect! To observe some more!"

Web Animation
  • The Homestar Runner short Ever and More! revolves around a meeting of a quite literal Brotherhood of Funny Hats, "The Broternal Order of Different Helmets".

Web Comics

Western Animation
  • Probably the most famous example is the Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes from The Flintstones, who either were inspired by or ripped off The Honeymooners (depending on who you ask).
    • Johnny Bravo parodied this in an episode with the Brotherhood of the Gnu (pronounced "guh-noo" by its members).
  • The Stonecutters from The Simpsons are half Ancient Conspiracy, half Brotherhood of Funny Hats; the name is a takeoff on the real-life fraternal order known as the Masons, who have figured in many conspiracy theories.
  • On Camp Lazlo, Scoutmaster Lumpus is a member of one of these, the Legume Council.
  • On Kappa Mikey, most of the cast of Lily Mu (other than Guano, he's too short) were members of the "Order of the Oni". They quit after the Order kicked Mikey out shortly after he joined.
  • Don Hertzfeldt's Rejected contains the famous "Silly Hats Only" segment.
  • The rival frat house/skater team in An Extremely Goofy Movie was depicted as one of these briefly in a montage. Predictably, Goofy's role as a candle bearer does not go over so well.
  • On Ren and Stimpy, Stimpy and Ren's cousin Sven belong to the Royal Order of Stupids.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants has "The Cephalopod Lodge", which Squidward was a member of until being kicked out due to Spongebob and Patrick's fault.
  • In The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, some of Billy's nerdier acquaintances have a Brotherhood of Funny Hats that, with Grim's help, gets upgraded to "snake-demon summoning cult".
  • At least one Rugrats episode had the Loyal Order of Wombats, of which Grandpa Lou was a member.

Real Life
  • Of the several real-life fraternal organizations that fit this trope, the Shriners stand out as being exceptionally (and intentionally) silly, with the fezzes and little cars and all.
    • They also liked Ray Stevens' song "Shriner Convention" (which is basically about drunken more-or-less upstanding middle-aged hijinx) enough to book him to play it at actual conventions. He apparently was a Shriner before he even wrote the song...
      • Although the Shriners are much sillier, the original Freemasons do in fact have some semi-silly hats, inasmuch as the Worshipful Masters still wear top hats (which weren't silly at the time, but certainly are now).
    • Adding to the silliness, all German Masons wear top hats as part of the uniform to this day.
  • The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks doubled as a drinking club during the Prohibition era.
    • They were founded much earlier, however - in 1868, according to The Other Wiki.
  • One saying about real-life fraternal orders goes, "Lions enjoy the town. Kiwanis run the town. Rotary owns the town." Presumably, the Freemasons own the entire 'country''.
  • Then there's the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternity that takes the cake for silly hats.
  • The Ancient Order of Turtles: because after a hard days work shooting down Nazi planes do you need a drink? You bet your sweet ass Diabetic donkey you do.
  • The Church Of The Subgenius.
  • The Cult Of The Eye, which involves making celebrities join the cult by taking pictures of them wearing a silly fez.
  • The Ku Klux Klan may be an evil, racist, terrorist organization, but damned if they don't have some awfully comical headgear.
    • They began as a jokey fraternal order among bored Confederate veterans in Pulaski, Texas. They particularly liked to try to scare black people by pretending to be ghosts. Later some more violent anti-Reconstruction types realised how much more seriously masked gangs with creepy names could terrorise people.
      • It's been pointed out that if Pulaski had had an Elks lodge, then the Klan might never have been born. Racism and violence would still probably have existed, however.
    • Interestingly enough, this trope became their downfall: in the 1940s, when the Klan was on the verge of a major comeback, a turncoat leaked details of all their secret rituals to The Adventures of Superman radio show. Once everyone knew that these guys gave themselves titles like "Great Titan" and "Imperial Wizard", held "Klovocations" and read from the "Kloran", people started taking them much less seriously and their popularity plummeted.
    • In fact, as this article shows, the Klan is little more than a Brotherhood of Funny Hats by now, becoming, at most, a parody of themselves. No-one takes them seriously anymore, and no-one respects them, not even other groups with similar ideals.
  • Believe it or not, the Illuminati were basically what happened when a number of eccentric scholars and philosophers (read: 18th-century nerds) decided to form one of these. They tried to become an Ancient Conspiracy, but how well they succeeded depends on which Conspiracy Theorists you listen to.
  • The Red Hat Society
  • The Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffalo. Whether they predate the Flintstones example, I couldn't say.
  • The Odd Fellows — a fraternal organization of men who didn't belong to any fraternal organization.
  • The Sons of the Desert, the official Laurel and Hardy fan club, take their name from the titular Laurel and Hardy film.
  • The various livery companies of the City of London (not to be confused with the London Metropolitan Area) are are the modern incarnations of various medieval guilds such as the bowmakers, the apothecaries, the tanners, the fishmongers, the basketweavers, etc. Some of them have found a role in the modern world (like the Company of Hackney Carriage Drivers, which now license the Black Taxicab drivers), others became charities, but they all kept their old traditions, many of which involve hats.


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