Feature

How John Waters became an insider

In the postmodern world, says Waters, it’s no longer even possible to be an outsider.

John Waters has lost his subversive edge, said Jim Shelley in the London Guardian. Ever since the director was a teenager, he wanted to shock and terrorize polite society. “My parents never blamed the crowd I ran with,” he says. “They knew I was the bad egg.” When he began making films, he sought to break every sexual and moral taboo imaginable. His 1969 film Mondo Trasho begins with a scene of chickens being beheaded on a chopping block, and when his mother saw it, she burst into tears. “She said I was going to go crazy and die in a mental institution.”

But as he’s aged, his sensibilities have become practically mainstream; he confesses to loving the crooning of Johnny Mathis, and he’s even served on the jury at the Cannes Film Festival. “I don’t think the word ‘trash’ works anymore,” he laments. “And I would never utter the word ‘camp.’ My tax form should say ‘irony dealer.’”

In the postmodern world, he says, it’s no longer even possible to be an outsider. “The word ‘outsider’ meant something when there was a cultural war going on, but there isn’t one anymore because everybody is on the Internet,” he says. “I don’t feel like an outsider at all. I used to, but now everyone feels like an outsider. My parents feel like outsiders. I feel like a happy insider, which is ironic. It’s the last irony of my life, in a way.” 

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