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This article is not intended to portray any of these organizations as they exist now as evil, corrupt or even a little bit shady. That's not the point. If anything, it's remarkable how some of these groups have changed with the times to become pillars of the community. Especially when you consider that their origin stories would make COBRA Commander mutter "Jeee-sus."

Groups like ...

Planned Parenthood

Cracked.com has about as much interest in debating women's reproductive rights as we have in pooping in a hat and calling it a Frisbee. That said, whether you consider Planned Parenthood the bee's knees or Lucifer's handmaidens put on this earth to entice virgins into wanton banging, you can't deny that the organization is both very influential and huge. It has more than 800 clinics in the U.S. alone and receives in the neighborhood of $335 million a year in government grants and contracts.

Also, they're the number one source for condoms you will never use.

International Planned Parenthood coordinates with the World Health Oorganization, the U.N. Development Program, UNICEF and a host of other global agencies to bring down the rate of AIDS and bring up the number of people with access to Trojans.

Its Sinister Origins

Planned Parenthood's founder, Margaret Sanger, was certainly interested in more reproductive choices for women, if those women weren't morons. Or idiots. Or feeble-minded, imbecilic spazzes. Because in that case, all choice-related bets were off. From Sanger's book The Pivot of Civilization:

The emergency problem of segregation and sterilization must be faced immediately. Every feeble-minded girl or woman of the hereditary type, especially of the moron class, should be segregated during the reproductive period.

She was remarkably uptight, for a girl wearing Mardi Gras beads.

And by "reproductive period," she didn't just mean when mentally disabled homegirls were ovulating (which would have been pretty hard to figure out without a First Response ovulating test kit) or even during the three decades they were capable of baby-making. She wanted the nonsterilized feeble-minded segregated onto special farms for their entire lives.

Friends of Sanger were 70 percent less likely to make their "goofy face" in photographs.

Like a lot of people at the time, Sanger was a fan of negative eugenics, which was the practice of lowering the fertility rate among people with less-desirable genetics. And don't think the mentally disabled were the only ones on her baby-ban radar, either. In 1932, Sanger proposed a Population Congress, whose objectives included:

  • Keeping foreign mentally disabled people from immigrating to the U.S.

  • Aaaaaand epileptics.

  • Taking inventory of native-born illiterates, paupers, unemployables, prostitutes and dope-fiends and shipping them to funny farms as well.

That would gut our comments section.

All in the name of preventing a "harvest of imbecility." Her words, not ours. Margaret Sanger talked so much trash about the mentally disabled that Planned Parenthood itself felt compelled to go on the defensive about its founder.

And speaking of eugenics ...


See if you can answer this question: Two men get on a train at 8:17 a.m. One of the men weighs 456 pounds and tips the train off its track. The other has a wonky eye and a baby arm. If another train is traveling in a completely different part of the world at 735 miles per hour, which man is most likely to get laid that night?

Pencils down.

If you answered "the engineer," congratulations, you're Mensa smart. You should totally join the 100,000 or so other smart people around the world who claim to be in the top two percent of the population in smarts. For only $63 a year, you can enjoy the company of other dorkbombs, nerdlingers and even a brainiac NYT bestseller (just like us, btw).

Its Sinister Origins

If Mensa was a baby, its daddy would be Eugene the Eugenicist, and its momma would be Tiffany the Elitist Bitch.

Kevin Bacon could be godfather.

Back in 1946, a British psychologist named Cyril Burt suggested on the radio that there should be a club for people with high IQs. Like a social club, but where people who were at the tippity-top of society in the brains department could get together and chat without interference from dummies.

Apparently, forming a club for eggheads sounded like a great idea, because a few years later Mensa was founded, and Burt was named honorary president for his contributions to IQ testing. The only problem? Like Maggie Sanger, Burt was a eugenicist, meaning he believed intelligence was hereditary and that societies should keep the human race moving forward by encouraging the brightest of the bunch to breed.

"Hello, ladies."

This was in 1946, mind you, after the world had had its fill of another exclusive club called the Nazis.

Even after Burt was largely discredited for falsifying his research and eugenics as a movement fell out of favor, the whole "let's isolate the smarties" vibe still lingers in the Mensa air. For example, in 1980, known eugenicist Robert Klark Graham started his own genius sperm bank so that ladies could pick out certified genius baby-daddies. Where did Graham advertise his services for mommas? Mensa publications. Between 1980 and 1999, 217 babies were born under Graham's watch in what technically is one of the biggest eugenics projects since Nazi days.

Take that, Mengele.

So, 1999 wasn't that long ago, but still ... water under the bridge, right? Not quite. To this day, American Mensa has a special interest group devoted to eugenics. Presumably just in case anyone wants to get that "sterilizing the morons" ball rolling again.

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The Pew Charitable Trusts

If, like us, you spend your Saturdays cruising for street vendor tacos while jamming out to NPR and your Sundays lovemaking to the steady drone of PBS, you're probably familiar with the phrase, "Funding for this program is provided by the Pew Charitable Trusts."

No. Don't be stupid.

And you probably already know that Pew is one of the country's most respected nonpartisan, nongovernmental organizations, operating with over $5 billion worth of assets in its pot. The Pew Charitable Trusts is so invested in public policy that reading its list of causes is like reading a list of every cause there ever was ever.

Its Sinister Origins

The Pew was once like the Tea Party of charities, if the Tea Party was endowed with millions more dollars and was a bazillion times more conservative. The trust started with millionaire conservative Joseph N. Pew Jr., who was to the Republican Party as white is to rice.

And he hated FDR something fierce, because Roosevelt was all about bigger government and Pew was all about educating the public about the evils of bureaucracy, to the point where he said the following about the New Deal:

... a gigantic scheme to raze U.S. businesses to a dead level and debase the citizenry into a mass of ballot-casting serfs.

In other words, a conspiracy. He thought the New Deal was a governmentwide conspiracy to destroy capitalism and turn the American masses into a servant class. And the government itself was "the wickedest racket the world has ever seen."

So Pew used his millions to fund the campaigns of Republican presidential candidates for more than 20 years. Which is why it's hilarious that the Pew Charitable Trusts of today supports such liberal houses of ill repute as NPR and PBS and funds research on death penalty reform, clean energy and protecting sensitive marine areas. It's like finding out that 100 years, from now the Tea Party is the #1 contributor to a school for Muslim abortion doctors. Or that the Palins of 2111 are those Muslim abortion doctors.

"Great-grandma married up."

The Rhodes Scholarship

Question: What do Bill Clinton, Kris Kristofferson and feminist writer Naomi Wolf have in common, besides the obvious fact that they have "I's" in their first names, "O's" in their last names and were all born in even-numbered years?

Oh, and aside from the fact that they've all gotten laid in the Oval Office.

Answer: They were all Rhodes scholars, chosen to participate in one of the world's most prestigious postgraduate programs. Also, they all have luscious, touchable hair.

Ever since 1902, the Rhodes Trust has selected the brightest minds in the world to do postgraduate work at Oxford University in England. Winners enjoy the benefits of free tuition, a monthly stipend to cover all their living expenses and a ready-made excuse for avoiding combat in Southeast Asia.

Who'd want to do that?

Its Sinister Origins

The Rhodes Scholarship was originally intended to be a secret network of British ruling elites, indoctrinated to advance the Queen's cause all over the world, ultimately even recovering the United States for the mother country.

It was one thing for Cecil Rhodes to be a racist imperialist: you wouldn't expect anything less from a white Victorian-era diamond magnate. The fact that he seized a million miles of African land, named a country after himself and declared that all Englishmen had "won first prize in the lottery of life" without batting a beady little eye shouldn't even faze hardened Cracked readers such as ourselves.

Observe how he casually smothers a midget in this picture.

So, in his mind, this fund wasn't just some gesture of international goodwill. In fact, Cecil Rhodes wouldn't have known "international goodwill" if it sneaked up and frenched him in the ear. In the first draft of his will, Rhodes set up a fund for:

... the establishment, promotion and development of a Secret Society, the true aim and object whereof shall be for the extension of British rule throughout the world ... especially the occupation by British settlers of the entire Continent of Africa ... the ultimate recovery of the United States of America as an integral part of the British Empire ...

They'll try again one day, readers. The British aren't to be trusted.

Fortunately, Rhodes' advisers who weren't insane convinced Rhodes to re-imagine the scholarship as a way to indoctrinate Colonials and get them on the side of the crown, then send them back into the world thoroughly Anglicized. And that's how the scholarship ultimately ended up. Which is a good thing, because toad-in-the-hole sounds disgusting.

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Ballet Schools

When ballet began, it wasn't so much an art form as it was a royal party dance for Renaissance-era courtiers. Kind of like the electric slide, but exclusively for aristocrats. The dance form actually wasn't accessible to commoners for the first few hundred years of its history, not until King Louis XIV established the world's first ballet school, the Academie Royale de la Danse, in 1661. And that school eventually became the Paris Opera Ballet School, which is still in operation as one of the world's most prestigious ballet schools.

They won't let you eat popcorn shrimp during a recital or nothing.

But somewhere in that transition from courtly, mannered dancing among nobility to the disciplined art form we know today, something pretty repulsive happened.

Its Sinister Origins

They were whores.


Girls recruited to study at the Paris Opera Ballet School weren't just sweet little bun-headed cutie pies in tutus. They were called the "little rats." And they were prostitutes in training.

Which was why the enterprising managers of the Paris Opera recruited the poorest, most desperate girls they could find to populate the ranks. Girls such as 14-year-old Marie van Goethem, who was the model for this statue by the artist Edgar Degas:

Cute, right? Not when you find out that the relationship between Degas and the girl was "debated" and that she was only one of many petits rats expected to entertain and keep company with patrons of the opera. By bringing in desperate girls whose parents were practically their pimps, the school opened up a whole world of patronage:

In the 1830s, however, the backstage of the Paris Opera became a privileged venue of sexual assignation, officially countenanced and abetted ... the theater's enterprising management dangled before the elect of its paying public a commodity of indisputable rarity and cachet -- its female corps of dancers.


Marie herself ended up getting kicked out of the ballet at age 17 and apparently went into full-time ho'ing, along with her sisters, with her mom as her pimp. But had she stayed in the ballet corps, the only difference probably would have been that she would have had the protection of the clients who favored her, and that she would have kept dancing. That's about it. One writer of the time put it this way:

Most of the dancers first saw the light of day in a concierge's lodge.

"Voulez-vous coucher avec moi (ce soir)?"

The Greatest Show on Earth

We all love a good circus. What's not to love about painted men in unnaturally colored afros, psychedelic hobo clothes and clearly oversized shoes degrading themselves to small children for applause and affection? Or elephants trained to walk like people and balance 10,000-pound bodies on precarious stools for our amusement?

In other words, a totally safe place for children.

And for many of us, our first circus experience was with the Greatest Show on Earth, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus. Since the merger of America's two biggest circuses in 1919, millions of spectators have enjoyed the circusy stylings of clowns, acrobats, tightrope walker and caged-motorcycle-sphere-of-death-riders alike.

What could possibly be sinister about a circus?

Its Sinister Origins

P.T. Barnum started his empire with one singular act: the exhibition of a blind, paralyzed, withered slave lady who claimed she was once George Washington's mammy.

Before there was Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, there was just P.T. Barnum, a guy who bought another human to put her on display for paying customers. Unlike his later attractions Jo-Jo the Dog-Faced Boy, the Siamese Twins and Tom Thumb, Joice Heth was not exactly a willing collaborator just making the best of a physical disability -- she was an old lady on death's door, reportedly weighing only 46 pounds when she was purchased. As an exhibit, all Heth had to do was sing some Negro spirituals and tell stories of nursing the Father of Our Country.

Exploitation? This man?

It was all bullshit, of course. Heth wasn't 161 years old, as everyone found out when she died. BECAUSE BARNUM HAD HER PUBLICLY AUTOPSIED and charged people admittance to get in on the show. Which they did, willingly. Because how often do you get a chance to watch a physician cut into the body of a 80ish-year-old cripple who pretended to suckle the first president of the United States? It was a bargain, really.

Kristi Harrison is an editor here. And you can follow her on Twitter here.

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