The Magazine

Mondo Balto

Who and what’s to blame for John Waters.

Oct 18, 2010, Vol. 16, No. 05 • By SUSIE POWELL CURRIE
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The Waters family would have several such moments. His fashion choices routinely pain his father, particularly the ones from his favorite line, Comme des Garçons. CDG is headed by designer Rei Kawakubo, who could be considered certifiable from Waters’s exuberant descriptions of her work: a brown sports coat she “hastily spray-painted black right before putting it out on the rack,” a white shirt that has “a random mismatched piece of green material sewn awkwardly on the front for no apparent reason.” Confronted with a pink-spattered blue shirt during one of his son’s Saturday visits, Waters père bellows, “You bought that?!”—and really, who can blame him?

A graduate of a venerable Catholic boys’ school, Waters rarely misses a chance to slam the faithful. One notable exception comes in his chapter on hometown heroes, when he laments the death of lesbian stripper Lady Zorro. Interviewing her daughter, Eileen Murche, gives him an insight into a childhood that, he comes to realize to his horror, was like living in one of his movies. Murche, a straight-A student in Catholic school, recalls that “one of the founding things that saved my life is the Catholic Church,” Eileen admits, “and for once I don’t make a religious wisecrack. Here is what the Catholic Church should be doing instead of condemning movies and denying science”—which, as is widely known, is its raison d’être. He even lets it pass when she tells him that, yes, she’s still a Catholic today.

As for Saint Catherine, she’s admired for reasons that show Waters is a little unclear on the concept of sanctity. In a chapter where he outlines his plan for becoming a cult leader, rather than just a cult filmmaker, he mistakes her abstemiousness for masochism. At least, I think he does; often Role Models, like Waters’s work generally, feels like one long inside joke. But who’s getting punked when he pays four figures for a “Value Village look-alike garment,” a wrinkled brown polyester sports jacket, designed to defy ironing, that draws sympathetic comments from strangers? Or when he displays photographs in his living room that the Swiss artists themselves explain surfaced from “just scraping the bottom of the barrel of our archive”? 

Indeed, wherever you go, you’re never far from being reminded that the author has earned his titles as “The Pope of Trash” and “The Duke of Dirt.” And he wears them as proudly as his pink leather pointy-toed CDG tennis shoes.

Susie Powell Currie is a writer and editor in Washington.

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