Make A Merkin Great Again
the Barest of things...
Uber talented local artist (and Fête Man) Grey Thompson and I have one of those friendships where proper conversation cannot be had until the appropriate number of insults has been exchanged. He says something about me being an old curmudgeonly mummy fart, I cite his undying love for Tom Cruise as a questionable character trait, we exchange a cold stare, and then we are friends again. I don’t know if it is healthy or normal behavior between two grown men but it works so we maintain the ritual.
The other day, however, his attempt at an insult turned into an unexpected history lesson that I am compelled to share. It started when he Mr. Thompson suggested via Facebook message that I was the “type of guy that probably owned a merkin.” I knew this was hardly a compliment but I admit that I was stumped and was forced to Google the word “merkin” in order to gauge the quality and caliber of his insult.
This is where the internet served me up a healthy lesson in prostitution, celebrities, and personal grooming habits. Perhaps you should stop reading here if you are easily offended or put off by such matters…
A merkin, you see, is a “pubic wig” worn by women. Why would a woman ever have a need for a wig for their lady parts, you might ask? It depends on how and when she lived, actually.
My “research” told me that the merkin came into vogue with prostitutes in the 1400’s. In the times before safe sex and modern medicine were actual things, STD’s were common and were often treated by shaving the affected area. Since this was not considered to be a normal look in such times, the merkin was worn to make the woman appear as expected by the time’s standards and to hide any remaining evidence of infection, because a lady of the night still had to stay in business after all.
Given the advances in STD treatment and attitudes toward personal grooming, the merkin’s usefulness has long since expired, right? Not so, thanks to 21st century Hollywood scenes involving full frontal nudity and modern actresses. Apparently, when filming a nude scene set in a time when women did not groom as aggressively as they do now, something has to be done to make everything, and that means everything, fit the scene. Cue the resurgence of the merkin, thanks to Hollywood actresses too stubborn to put down the razor long enough to make every part of a scene look convincing.
Perhaps the most intriguing thing of all (to me at least) is one last merkin nugget for you… Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 classic Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, famously featured Peter Sellers cast as three different characters. In addition to portraying the title character and British RAF officer Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, he also played the President of the United States. His name? President Merkin Muffley. A fictional president of the United States was given one of the most laughably low brow names imaginable in one of my all time favorite movies and I never even realized it until now. I find this to be kind of mind-blowing and inexplicably satisfying.
Thus concludes a brief history of the merkin, for better or for worse. Credit goes to Grey Thompson for my introduction to the word, although I have to wonder why he might suggest that I would be the owner of such an item. I’ll make sure to ask him at next week’s filming of Fête Greenville TV.
fête it be…