I Actually Think I Have Good Taste

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 fascist-ly 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.

Question: Why do you describe your aesthetic as “disaster in a dry cleaners”?

John Waters: With a lot of designers I like, it does look like something’s wrong with them and I have a really good cleaner in Baltimore that’s finally learned how to do everything because the dry cleaning instructions on some of these clothes are hilarious.  I mean, you’d think The Onion wrote them.  I mean, they’re... but they’re so complicated; yes, fabric may fade, rip, bleach, become discolored. What?  You just paid $1,000.  But it’s kind of great because it’s fashion in reverse.  And then I can wear these clothes to, like, blue collar bars in Baltimore and nobody thinks you’re bragging.  No, they’re anything but ostentatious.  They say to me in Baltimore: “That’s a shame about that shirt.”  And they don’t know that it cost $1,000, so it’s hilarious I think.  It’s like the same reason Andy Warhol supposedly sometimes under his Gap turtleneck wore a $100,000 woman’s necklace.  Nobody could see it, but he knew he had it on.  It’s the same principle.  It’s not bragging and it’s not condescending to other people and it’s not using fashion to... the fashion I’d never wear has designer names or logos on it or anything like that.  But that’s for the... that’s for the people that are overly insecure about their fashion taste.

Recorded September 10, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller

The filmmaker was raised with "fascist-ly good taste"—which is probably why he rebelled. But he's thankful for this upbringing because "you can't have fun with bad taste unless you know the rules to break."

Malcolm Gladwell live | How to re-examine everything you know

Join Radiolab's Latif Nasser at 1pm ET on Monday as he chats with Malcolm Gladwell live on Big Think.

Big Think LIVE

Add event to your calendar

AppleGoogleOffice 365OutlookOutlook.comYahoo


Keep reading Show less

To be a great innovator, learn to embrace and thrive in uncertainty

Innovators don't ignore risk; they are just better able to analyze it in uncertain situations.

David McNew/Getty Images
Personal Growth
Madam C.J. Walker, born Sarah Breedlove, was America's first female self-made millionaire.
Keep reading Show less

All of Jimi Hendrix’s gigs in one beautiful flash

Remarkable 'fan art' commemorates 50th anniversary of legendary guitar player's passing.

Image: Owen Powell, reproduced with kind permission.
Strange Maps
  • Legendary rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix died exactly 50 years ago today.
  • From September 1966 to his death, he performed over 450 times.
  • This spectacular 'gigograph' shows the geographic dimension of his short but busy career.
Keep reading Show less

There are 5 eras in the universe's lifecycle. Right now, we're in the second era.

Astronomers find these five chapters to be a handy way of conceiving the universe's incredibly long lifespan.

Image source: Pablo Carlos Budassi
Surprising Science
  • We're in the middle, or thereabouts, of the universe's Stelliferous era.
  • If you think there's a lot going on out there now, the first era's drama makes things these days look pretty calm.
  • Scientists attempt to understand the past and present by bringing together the last couple of centuries' major schools of thought.
Keep reading Show less

Airspeeder's ‘flying car’ racers to be shielded by virtual force-fields

Welcome to the world's newest motorsport: manned multicopter races that exceed speeds of 100 mph.

Credit: Airspeeder
Technology & Innovation
  • Airspeeder is a company that aims to put on high-speed races featuring electric flying vehicles.
  • The so-called Speeders are able to fly at speeds of up to 120 mph.
  • The motorsport aims to help advance the electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) sector, which could usher in the age of air taxis.
Keep reading Show less
Quantcast