John Waters Is Astonished He's Become Mainstream

Monday April 18, 2022
Originally published on March 22, 2022

It may be hard to believe, but John Waters has never written a novel. The filmmaker, known for his outrageous B-movies from four decades ago, has written some six nonfiction books. But on May 3, "Liarmouth: A Feel-Bad Romance," which is described in an a New York Times interview with Waters as "a gleefully filthy caper," hits bookstores, both online and retail.

"If you're less familiar with the Waters corpus, know that the book's specifics include talking genitalia, tickle fetishism, bloody violence and plenty of satire about the shibboleths of both the left and the right," the Times writes. "That's what you're getting, and that's what Waters, 75, has been joyfully peddling in various forms for nearly 60 years — to increasingly welcoming audiences and his own continued astonishment. 'The mainstream has in the last 10 years begun to accept me,' Waters says. 'For reasons I'm not sure I understand. Maybe because they can't get rid of me.'"

Perhaps because Waters is so damn funny, which may be why he has, despite putting to film some of the most tasteless sequences ever put on film, most famously in "Pink Flamingos" when his muse Divine ate dog poo to prove she was the "filthiest person alive."

Today's moviemakers, though, disappoint Waters, because they don't want to provoke their audiences. "What is shocking to me is that they're not interested in art movies. They want to go to a mall. They want to sit in stadium seating. They want special effects. To me, cheesy special effects are much more fun than these new ones. I'm in the minority here obviously. That's why I write books. But Criterion keeps putting my stuff out. It's easier to see my work than ever. 'Pink Flamingos' probably violates more values now than it did then."

"Pink Flamingos" was a watershed film for Waters, becoming a midnight hit in art houses around the country due to its outrageousness that had the shock of the new. Today the shocking behavior in the film can be found with just a few keystrokes. "That is why it's so different: that group experience of discovering something at the same time. There was no video; there were no computers. I don't get free porn. You have to pay for porn for it to work! You have to have some guilt. Porn where you can just type in the most hideous sex act you could think of and in one second it comes up for free? What's the fun of that? I used to steal it when I was really young because I was too embarrassed to buy it. Now you click a button and it comes right up. It takes the fun out of it."

He also believes that today his critics would come from a different place. "The right used to be my censors. They aren't anymore. I don't have any. If I did, it would be young woke liberals. But I always try to use humor to put everything in perspective because I question my own values. Why is this OK and that isn't? The only way you can do that is with humor."

Asked about cancel culture, Waters said that we are lucky it isn't retroactive "because practically every artist would be canceled." But he added there is someone he would cancel: "J.K. Rowling. Give her some Preparation H for that transphobia. There are people I would like to cancel, but at the same time I'm saying it humorously. I'm not going to go through each person who's been canceled and say what I think, but I never saw Johnny Depp act negatively to a woman in my entire life — and I did drugs and got drunk with him."