Everything I know about real life I learned from John Waters
I am the product of weird parents. Okay, "weird" probably isn't the best word, considering it can describe everything from hairstyles to movies to that guy on the bus who always smells like day-old Whopper Jr.'s and mothballs. But my parents were definitely weirdos.
Two very important figures in my childhood: John and Divine.
My dad made Tang and Spam on Sundays as a "special breakfast treat" before he took me to the Jewish Community Center for a swim (note: We are not, in fact, Jewish). Whenever I was wearing a "fancy" holiday outfit, my mother would have me stand on the kitchen table -- in order to fit my whole get-up into the frame of a Polaroid. My parents also raised me on John Waters films. A lot of them.
Maybe this doesn't mean that my parents were weird so much as that they were, well, what I lovingly refer to as intellectual white trash. But when I popped a VHS of Cry Baby into the VCR at a middle school-era slumber party -- and received what can only be described as a collective pre-pubescent gasp from my fellow slumberers -- it was clear that my parents weren't like other people's parents. Other people's parents didn't let them watch John Waters and David Lynch films when they were eleven.
But as I count down the days until John Waters makes an appearance in my real life at the Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design (RMCAD) at 7 p.m. this Saturday, March 10, I can't help but be grateful. The exposure to Waters's brand of uncomfortable kitsch has shaped my life's aesthetic. Much like the B-52s' early existence, I liked the way he lifted up the traditional "cleanliness is next to godliness" presentation of '50s and '60s pop culture and showed a seedy underbelly that Disney had done such an excellent job suppressing.
I partially attribute my devotion to Lakeside to Waters's imprint on my brain. After watching his movies, I had a different view of the world, one that appreciated the ubiquitous campiness of places like theme parks, flea markets and all-you-can-eat buffet restaurants. (I love Casa Bonita for the same reason.)
Life seemed less serious and more ridiculous than ever, once I realized it was okay to examine people from the outside and catalogue their weirdness, rather than pretend it wasn't there at all. (Have you ever seen the people who frequent an all-you-can-eat anything? They are some of the strangest people on earth. It's like the line at the DMV, but with salad bar-exclusive fake Bacos and Jell-O.)
Waters also introduced me to figures in my not-so-distant-future as a music-obsessed human, like Ric Ocasek and Debbie Harry. More important, he kick-started my obsession with Ricki Lake, whose natural wholesomeness not only stuck out from Waters' usual cadre of sexy, filthy oddballs, but resonated with me as the forward-thinking goody two-shoes of my own life's scenarios.
The most vital of his introductions, though, was to Divine -- or as a T-shirt I once purchased at Pride Fest read, "the most beautiful woman in the world." Divine was a drag queen in some sense of the word, but mostly, he was just a really great actor, one who wore the caring mother facade just as well as the gorgeous man in a mermaid dress in Pink Flamingos. His sexuality wasn't a tell-all or even a factor in his role as hair hopper Tracy Turnblad's mother Edna, but I can't help but think it piqued my interest in queen life.
Beyond the exposure to a slice of queer history, Waters's take on segregation, class warfare, racism and even bad manners was explored through informative humor. The Waters view of life -- the idea that no matter how fucked up we are, we can find common ground, even through the triviality of something like dancing -- has become key to surviving the America I live in now as an adult. It was as if Waters knew patriotism would (once again) equate to racism in my lifetime.
Now, if only he could get certain potential Republican presidential candidates to read even one book, the world would be a better place for everybody.
Better yet: John Waters for President 2012.