There are many, many reasons why I personally want to thank John Waters. At the top of the list: the noted Baltimore-born filmmaker taught me the term “teabagging.” If he hadn’t, there’s a chance — albeit slim — that I would have gone through life thinking that the term was only about dipping a packet of Earl Grey into a pipping hot cup of water.
While Waters hasn’t been the only purveyor of bad taste to grace the silver screen, it was Waters more than any other cinematic figure who introduced tasteless humor to the mainstream. And back in 1972, they didn’t come much more extreme than Pink Flamingos.
For the uninitiated, here’s the plot in a nutshell: Babs Johnson (played by the drag queen Divine) lives with her lovely son Crackers, her pal Cotton, and her egg-obsessed mother Miss Edie in a pink trailer, and they have a reputation as being the “filthiest people alive.” But when another family makes a run at the tile, Babs and the gang go on a mission to prove that only they have earned the right to be called the world’s filthiest fam.
Even in this day and age, some of the film’s most notable scenes are still shocking. For example, an asshole sings along to The Trashmen’s “Surfin’ Bird” while Jesus Christ looks on in astonishment. And then there’s the one where Divine herself eats fresh doggie doo. Yummy.
Perhaps what’s most interesting about Waters’ film is the way in which he uses the gender-bending Divine. While many films have portrayed cross-dressing males strictly for laughs (Tootsie, Some Like It Hot) or for scares (Pyscho, Sleepaway Camp), Waters ignored the fact that Divine was in fact a man dressed as a woman. And instead of trying to pass herself off as a beautiful, glamorous gal, Divine chooses to adopt a grotesque version of femininity.
But what truly makes Pink Flamingos memorable is the fact that no matter how unbreakable you think you are, Waters finds something to offend everyone’s moral code. I may be fine watching Divine eat dog shit, but watching a chicken die on screen makes my liberal ass squirm. Then again, I guess what is art to some is trash to others. And that is why Pink Flamingos is important.
Before Daniel Tosh made rape a punchline and Jackass’ Danger Ehren McGhehey ate a yellow snow cone, there was John Waters gleefully screwing up psyches left and right. And for that, I thank him.
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