It's an ironic fact: Political correctness has jumped the shark. Comedians can't curse, traditional clothing that wasn't worn by one's own ancestors is off-limits (or it's cultural appropriation), abbreviations, pronouns and generalizations in reference to others are the devil, etc. And while we can appreciate millennial-driven sensitivity when it comes to the feelings, hang-ups and triggers of our fellow humans, there's a naughty thrill to throwing it all out the window, to enjoying audacious expression (in words, images, film or music) made by an artist who has no filters, no limitations and no shame.
John Waters is such a provocateur, and the reason he gets away with the stuff he does when others can't is simple. He's John “Fucking” Waters, the filmmaker who pushed boundaries of taste before we even knew they existed, the man who had Divine eating dog excrement (Pink Flamingos) and gnawing at the umbilical cord after giving “birth” (Female Trouble), created “Odorama” cards so the audience could smell his actors' farts (Polyester), made Mink Stole perform a sex act with rosary beads (Multiple Maniacs), and, well, you get the idea.
This witty and wise, spiffy as hell 72-year-old gay man is a genius if not a god to anyone with a weirdo sensibility. Saturday night the writer-director brought his solo show to the Luckman Fine Arts Theatre at Cal State L.A., and he did not disappoint when it came to cultural commentary and behind-the-scenes recollections from his films, which include mainstream hits (Hairspray, Cry-Baby, Serial Mom) as well as low-budget cult films. His stream of consciousness–style gabfest offered background on his movies and the motivations behind them, but it was even more enlightening when it wasn't about his work but rather about the absurdity of modern culture.
Waters' take on sexuality is particularly fascinating. While he's as open-minded as they come, he relishes sardonically calling out the latest in tawdry fornication trends and self-identification. In one breath he says, “Picking a team is so 2007,” and in another, he's rolling his eyes over auto-eroticism (“They can't masturbate because they feel like they're cheating on themselves”) and “platinum gays,” homosexual men who believe they are superior because they were delivered via cesarean, and hence, never came in contact with a vagina. He thinks drag queens would be more interesting if they emulated “hated women in history” and revealed that his cross-dressing muse, Divine, “wasn't trying to be a woman, he was trying be Godzilla.”
When he's not talking about his films or skewering sexual mores, Waters also has words for the hipster set, a faction of his fan base the Baltimore resident knows very well as a follower of the local music scene (he shouted out Beach House and Future Island). He spoke at length about modern parents and “Theybies,” the phenomenon in which nouveau-boho moms and man bun–sporting dads impose gender neutrality on their offspring to almost laughable extremes, refusing to identity their infant's sex to anyone who asks and waiting to name the baby until the kid tells them what to call him or her. He also joked about the shop he'll open one day, selling the ugliest clothing even Goodwill would reject, like “meatball brown maxi skirts,” at $300 a pop. (Brings to mind Kanye West's hideous — and now sold out — Wyoming merch).
Next up in Waters' world: A re-release and “beautifully restored” version of 1974's Female Trouble put out by Criterion Collection on June 26, followed by an appearance at the Burger Records festival in Oakland, Burger Boogaloo, headlined by Devo and The Damned, on June 30 and July 1.