So Whoopi diddled Dubya? Kubrick diddled the entire U.S. presidency.
Reportedly banned in Boston, and thus unable to get any face time at the Democratic National Convention, Whoopi Goldberg may have had to handle Bush in private this week. But the move by the Democrats’ overly conventional convention leaders to strike up the bland and keep her down ignores a crucial subversive subtext in the cultural history of the POTUS.
Back in ’64, Stanley Kubrick‘s Dr. Strangelove (unfortunately doesn’t rhyme with “Rove“) featured a bland-voiced U.S. president named Merkin Muffley (“Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here. This is the war room.”). Maybe Peter Sellers, adorned with a fake-bald covering on his head, looked so Eisenhowerish because Kubrick used all the hair on the character’s name. Film censors of the ’60s must not have realized what millions of other people knew, that a merkin is a pubic hairpiece, “a 17th century term for a pubic wig” worn by women, as the Wikipedia puts it, or “a simple substitute vagina made of plastic, rubber, or a similar material, and designed for use in masturbation or as an adjunct to sexual intercourse,” according to Info Mutt.
Breaking it down, we know that “muff” as a noun is slang for the real thing, according to Dictionary.com, and “bush” is “vulgar slang” for “a growth of pubic hair.” They’re practically synonymous. Clinching that linkage, capital-B Bush confirms nearly every day the definition of “muff” as a verb: “To perform or handle clumsily; bungle. See synonyms at ‘botch.'” (In the president’s grammar book, however, it’s an intransigent verb.)
Finally, Eric Partridge poignantly defines “merkin” in his Dictionary of Historical Slang as “an artificial vagina for lonely men.” At least that’s what Michael Quinion at World Wide Words notes.
Go ahead and maneuver through the Kubrick film’s thicket of other puns by consulting Study Guide for Dr. Strangelove, by Rich Erlich, an English professor at Miami (Ohio) University. And take a look at Terry Southern‘s “Notes From the War Room,” his memoir of working with Kubrick on the screenplay for Strangelove, originally in Grand Street but reprinted on Roderick Munday‘s Kubrick Site.
But back to the misunderstood merkin: The Free Dictionary says the term originally meant “a wig,” but “afterwards, a mop for cleaning cannon.”
Those damn Democrats, always trying to link Bush to military hardware. No wonder he was pissed. “Nobody wants to be the ‘war president,'” he told the crowd at an Ask the President event in Cedar Rapids, Iowa on July 20. “I want to be the ‘peace president.'”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 29, 2004