John Waters Says He Built His Career On Being Banned

Saturday February 4, 2023
Originally published on February 4, 2023

John Waters
John Waters  (Source:AP)

John Waters is bringing a new solo show, "The End of The World," around the country. Ahead of a recent date in Durham, North Carolina, Waters spoke with The News Observer as to why he hasn't been cancelled (amongst other topics).

"If you stick around long enough and you make fun of yourself and you're not mean-spirited — which I don't think I've ever been, I make fun of things I love, and I think that's why I don't get canceled really," Waters told the News Observer.

Which is a bit surprising considering Waters has been a thorn in the side of mainstream culture since his breakthrough "Pink Flamingos" fifty years ago. In that film Divine, Waters muse who died in 1988, played the filthiest person alive who, in the film's most infamous moment, eats dog poo to prove it. While the film recently got respectable by being placed in the National Film Registry, it is still banned in the community of Hicksville, New York.

But Waters sees being banned as a positive, especially in lieu of the recent spate of book bannings of LGBTQ+ books in more conservative parts of the country. "I built a career on being banned. Nowadays if they ban a book it's the best thing that can happen, because there are sections in bookshops — right up front, near the cash register — that say 'banned books."

Nor does he any issue with Drag Queen Story Hour, a controversial children's event that has conservatives up in arms.

"I just picture little Billy coming home from school and Dad saying 'How was school today?' And he says 'Oh, Little Miss Hot Mess taught me how to put on bottom lashes!' Get it girl!"

He also described his latest solo show as being inspired by his interest in extremes. "I'm not saying I believe in all the extremes, but I'm fascinated by them. That's what my new show's about, the extremes of things going wrong, and 'Can anything ever go back to the way it was?'"

But it turns out Waters doesn't see "Pink Flamingos," "Serial Mom," or "Female Trouble" as his most subversive movie. "Hairspray," he said, is "the most radical movie I ever made." The reason? It's commercial success, largely because of its hugely successful musical version. "It was about a fat girl who got the guy in a city that no one talked about,"