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Rich, thanks for this comment. I met John Waters at an event about 15 years ago and found him just as dismissive - in fact he was downright rude to me until he saw a Chicago camp celebrity hanging out with me (I wasn't deemed worthy until then I suppose.)
I still love JW's work and think that at 65 he has the right to be crusty - but I don't lap up his every word the way I did in my teens and 20's, either. And I'll bet he totally watches "Swamp People."


Well said. The premise that those who document (for lack of better word) through reality shows are nothing more than detached exploiters is about as convincing as the idea that "high brow" documentary carries no agenda.


It's disappointing he lumps all reality programming together as completely exploitative, ignoring how reality tv can be, and often is, successfully subversive.

Not to mention dismissing opportunities for particularly vulnerable persons/populations to fuck with his/her audience and conventions for pleasure/empowerment.

This is pretty heartbreaking, no? I wouldn't expect Waters to be so "get off my lawn".


I think I'm with Waters on this one. There are examples of camp in reality TV (first thing that comes to mind is ANTM), but I see nothing but exploitation for ridicule in shows like Jersey Shore and all the Real Housewives editions, for example.
And not to pull the "I work in TV" card but I do and I've sat in many a production meeting and while it may not be downright contempt, there is a whole lot of laughing at their famewhore subjects than real compassion or interest in the global effects.


I live in Baltimore and used to go to this male strip club to shoot pool like a good dyke called Club Atlantis. This nightclub is featured in John Water's film "Pecker" (which shoulda been a porn/b-film hybrid but JW was much too commercial by then).

Well I came to find out that JW is just a vicious old queen like all the rest with very little genuine generosity or even a truly broad vision for pop culture. He does what he does and likes what he likes and he had his fucking face upturned underneath all those goddamn swinging cocks and balls just like all the other guys at the bar.

Fact is, he had become commercial waaaay before "Pecker" and even before "Hairspray."

What made JW great, I hasten to add, was DIVINE (Harris Glenn Milstead, 1945-1988), the pioneering thunder-thighing drag queen, writer, actor, and singer who co-created JW's sensibility in ways tha eclipsed it within every single film. We know this because of the oddly inert caste of JW's post-DIVINE oeuvre. When people laud JW I just say, "Oh you must mean DIVINE because "Pink Flamingos" and "Female Trouble" were HER films just as much as JW!" Muses are goddesses, don't you know.

Furthermore, JW's form of trash/camp had always had a following: B, C, and D films, as well as cult films, are part of Hollyweird's niche markets and genres.

JW's ennui, un-approachability, and dismissiveness is, sadly, old news. Seemingly great artists are rarely great people or great interpreters of other art.

Think about it: the weeks long drama and comedy festivals of ancient Greece reveled in the bad behavior of families, cliques and clans in ways that we now locate as high art while denigrating reality television as low art. All of these mythic tales routinely blend history with fiction and blur the line between performer and audience, professional and amateur, myth and reality, gossip and fact. It is the uncertainty, the irresolution masquerading as confection, edited claptrap, and trash that makes reality TV, JW's films, cult films, porn, and even ancient Greek theater so compelling!

Keep asking those badass questions, baby, and developing these fierce critiques about pop-cul and folks like me and all your hardcore readers will love you until the end of fucking time.


I think it's a little naive for John to generalize reality TV the way he did.

I mean, I do agree, many of the most popular shows do fit into his mold of mocking the subject, straight-out. BUT there are good shows out there that aren't always about that, that do have some quality to them.

I've also seen first-hand the bonds that are made between various producers and "the talent." If these people really felt mocked or made jokes of, I don't think they'd be as strong as they are.


You're both right. Watching an episode of, say, Top Model brings consistent camp while also making the people on the show look like complete fools. It's mean spirited and campy, which is fine by me.

Then again, I still have my VHS recording of The Littlest Groom and bust it out whenever I feel down. I'm not exactly an objective bastion of taste here.


You're brilliant. I love this commentary; thank you for writing it.


Sad to say, but I think JW is just losing his edge. The next generation of camp/trash is here and it appears now in the form of reality TV, game shows, animation, webisode, etc...

I have to agree that taste, even bad taste, is subjective and that certain aspects of reality televison is blatant explotation. But, reality TV personalites and hookers both do it for the money; and possibly that daddy/mommy didn't love them enough.

Miss Lisa

I don't think he's being that dismissive--just except for the obvious attention-grabbing reality TV that continues to be cranked out every season. Within this genre, there's definitely an undercurrent of mean-spiritedness. There's also fantastic high-mindedness in reality TV as well, with those "Prairie House" historical reenactments (PBS), and "Kindergarten" about a bunch of kids starting school (HBO). Plus "Project Runway" has taught me about flow, drape and silhouette--what could be more useful? But for camp--I like it arch and winking. Not a bunch of people getting drunk and falling out of cars onto the street. I can just remember my college years if I want to experience that.


First, I love that you quoted Pet, that's one of my favorite lines and it always makes me crave a gimlet.
I still can't figure out how to define camp. I just know I resent incredibly stupid people being paid millions for being incredibly stupid. Having said that I'm intrigued by the similarity to the late 50's-early 60's Hillbilly trend in b-movies and tv. So now it's Jersey that's being exploited for laughs. It's safe to make fun of orange people, and apparently profitable. I kind of like Drag U, the "girls" are still mean to each other but are trying to bring confidence and fun to women who need it. And sequins!


From what I've read about him and heard him say, John Waters doesn't really watch TV.
It's telling that he pulled the most obvious reality celeb name. I have heard him speak and he was kinda dismissive and terse to almost everyone. He really only likes fun questions about himself. He also comes into the grocery store I work at and is not super nice.

You're right though. His brand of trash is out. I love JW's films and could act out Desperate Living and Hairspray by myself from beginning to end. But did you see A Dirty Shame or Cecil B. Demented? I did. Kinda cute I guess.

You can't sum up reality TV with "Snookie".
And reality competitions are so different from the following-vapid-ninnies-around-with-cameras kind of reality TV. Although I do watch the vapid-ninny style too. While I do get a kick out of their crazy antics I don't really look down on them. Most of them anyway. I do look down on the all the Real Housewives. They can suck shit through a tube. And did you know they're making a gay Real Housewives called The A-List. I'm so ashamed for my people. Anyway, ANTM is some of the best theater of the absurd on television even if it is unintentional.


I'm always a bit dissapointed when I hear John Waters talk about television, reality tv in specific, because he tends to generalize. Fair enough, if John doesn't like it, that's fine. But I feel he really doesn't know the subject matter well enough to give a concise argument either way.
Also sad to hear because for the longest time I considered shows like "Flavor"/"Rock of Love" to be John Waters for the new millenium. Too bad he doesn't share the same opinion.

Benny Lava

I think that Mr. Waters (who I admire) may be a little misguided on his own creations. His work is all about watching train wrecks... especially the earlier stuff. Hairspray, Cry Baby, and Pecker are a different entity. They had the commercial charm that made him money. The trash like Desperate Living and Female Trouble is what made him notoriety.

Reality TV from the view of the person being entertained is the same damn thing.

I don't buy the cruelty factor he says surrounds reality TV, because I laugh at Snookie, I laugh at Tyra, I laugh at Nene, but I don't think I am better than them. I am also sure that a lot of other fans would die to sit down to dinner with them also.

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Although he has apartments in New York City, San Francisco, and a summer home in Provincetown, Waters still mainly resides in his hometown of Baltimore, Maryland, where all his films are set.

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