On July 28, 2012, The Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale, Florida presented filmmaker John Waters who talked about his love for poppers and dared to ask: “Is anal bleaching true?”
An Evening with John Waters - ‘This Filthy World’ has been on tour throughout the U.S. for the past several months. The show is centered on Mr. Waters’ reflections about his films —- how he took over a pig farm for Mondo Trasho (the owners may have been afraid to come out of the house), how all the kids who appeared in his movies have grown up to be just fine (even the baby who was put in the refrigerator in Desperate Living).
Yet the show is also driven by Mr. Waters’ comments about contemporary pop culture, art and society. Yes, John Waters may be an unlikely sage for our times—but if you have any kind of outsider-ness within you, then Mr. Waters puts it all in perspective: “Nobody gets [to be] totally normal.”
Another of Mr. Waters’ talents is how he can bring out the deviant aspects in just about anything—The Wizard of Oz, the Easter Bunny, Nicole Kidman. However, Mr. Waters also shows us how none of those things could ever really be considered “normal” (whatever that means).
Take Nicole Kidman. During ‘This Filthy World’, Mr. Waters referenced Ms. Kidman’s scene in her upcoming film The Paperboy, where she actually urinates on Disney darling Zac Efron. Of course, now that she has this experience on her resume, Mr. Waters contemplated the idea of Pink Flamingoes 2 starring Ms. Kidman.
He also discussed how young people often turn to him for “instructions on how to be bad.” But he wondered if there was such a thing anymore. He envisioned the new embodiment of rebellion—a young person sitting at their computer, hacking into corporate websites. Yet Mr. Waters could not help lamenting the loss of glamour in this image—“there’s no fashion…just bad posture.”
This Filthy World also included a Q&A session with a few memorable questions from the audience.
The best thing he’s found in a thrift store? A dog handler’s jacket with a picture of a German Shepherd.
What to tell writers who have lost their way? He encouraged them to not give up. “A no is free,” responded Mr. Waters. “I’ve been doing this for fifty years, and people still say no to me.” He also advised them to “cannibalize old ideas” or to try writing in a new genre.
Another notable moment during the Q&A session was when Hershell Gordon Lewis revealed his presence to an appreciative audience. The filmmaker of horror films such as Blood Feast and Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat is one of Mr. Waters’ influences.
When the discussion turned to one of Mr. Waters’ next projects, a book about his recent experience hitchhiking across the country, an audience member asked what that experience was like. Mr. Waters reflected that “those who pick up hitchhikers want to talk… [and as a hitchhiker] your job is to talk.” He advised the audience member to try it. “Hitchhike to the store… it’s green” he said.
Although Mr. Waters has not directed a film since A Dirty Shame in 2004, his work continues to find audiences drawn towards subversion. During ‘This Filthy World’, Mr. Waters talked about filmmaking as political action, particularly how Pink Flamingoes was “terrorism against good taste.”
However, any reality show could be defined in the same way. In fact, all reality shows probably owe a debt to Mr. Waters. From Wife Swap to Hoarders, you could probably find a good number of John Waters moments.
So The Real Housewives may be “terrorism against good taste,” but is it confronting the status quo? Is it a subversive indictment against capitalism, entitlement and privilege? Maybe, but that’s not the intention of these kinds of shows. We gravitate towards them for the shock value, nothing else. We may love them for what they’re worth—escapism. But they are ephemeral. They will not endure.
‘This Filthy World’ provides insight into why Mr. Waters’ work perseveres. It isn’t because of the shock value—even if some of the material can be interpreted as shocking. No one eats dog shit, but there are graphic descriptions of sexual acts and proclivities.
Yet Mr. Waters’ work endures because it unapologetically explores the world of the abnormal, the fucked-up. His intention is to observe and critique our ideas of what should and shouldn’t be.
What could be more “normal” than that?