John Waters is an American filmmaker, writer, and artist who rose to fame in the early 1970s for his transgressive cult films, which have earned him the titles "pope of filth" and "prince of puke." Waters's 1970s and early '80s trash films feature his regular troupe of actors known as Dreamlanders, most famous among them being the drag queen Divine. In 1988, Waters had his biggest mainstream hit with "Hairspray," which was turned into Tony Award-winning Broadway musical in 2003 and then remade as a movie musical in 2007. In 2010, Waters published the unorthodox memoir "Role Models," in which Waters interviews and writes about his influences as a means of telling his own life story.
Question: Is bad taste something you’re born with or something you have to learn?
John Waters: Well, I might be a... I know bad taste, but to know bad taste you have to know all the rules of good taste, which my parents painstakingly taught me. That’s probably why I rebelled. It was almost fascistly good taste I was raised with. But I’m thankful for it actually because you can’t have fun with bad taste unless you know the rules to break.
Question: How can bad taste be used creatively in art and fashion?
John Waters: I actually think I have good taste. I don’t think I have bad taste. I think fashion can use bad taste, certainly. Fashion can take the worst thing that everybody threw out and make everybody want to spend too much money and buy it again. That’s a magic trick. That’s art isn’t it? That’s not bad taste. That’s brilliance, if you ask me.
But taste is ever-changing. And I always tell kids, if you want a change... start a fashion revolution, you get on the fashion nerves of the people that are three years older than you that are hip. Not your parents. You have to get the people that were your age that just discovered something and you’ve got to knock them down from that... I don’t know, that mantle of fashion success to start your own.
So obviously when you’re young, thrift shops are the place to go. But I can’t find anything in thrift shops anymore, so I spend too much money on clothes that look like they were the worst thing in a thrift shop. But if you’re young, you really can buy the worst thing in a thrift shop and look really, really fashionable and pull it off.
Recorded September 10, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller