Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 13 / 29 March 2018

Worldly wisdom


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Make Trouble by John Waters; Algonquin Books, $14.95

As Graduation Day nears, high school and college seniors anticipate the rush of freedom and the ring of true adulthood right on their doorsteps. Who better to provide a salutary send-off into that great unknown than our own so-called "People's Pervert" and "Prince of Puke," John Waters? At 70, the outspoken author, actor, screenwriter, and film director relishes telling it like it is, not mincing words about the state of the world.

Commencement speeches are congratulatory to those receiving worldly advice before that final farewell. But in the hands of a "filth elder" like Waters, it can also be meant as a stern adieu, a pointed warning, the permission to say "Fuck it, I'm free!" and a proverbial kick-in-the-pants to unleash creativity. Waters' new book Make Trouble is just that, the hilarious 72-page transcription of a commencement speech Waters gave to the 2015 graduating class of the Rhode Island School of Design, which went viral in its entirety.

Complemented by the pen-and-ink artwork of Eric Hanson, Waters immediately disqualifies himself as a distinguished speaker to creative artists about to enter the workforce of art and design. He admits to being suspended from high school, expelled from college, and having "built a career out of negative reviews." Still, Waters calls new graduates lucky. When he went to school, he was discouraged from dreaming, crossing boundaries, or thinking "outside the box."

He encourages participation in the creative world these fresh minds seek to break into: read, visit galleries, see movies, people-watch, be nosy, curious, and take time to eavesdrop, he insists. As Waters did with his notorious film Pink Flamingos, have fun launching sneak attacks on society while resisting isolation. Design, horrify, and outrage, Waters urges, but don't forget to count your blessings along the way.

Waters' sage advice will resonate long after this book's covers are closed. Fight the norm and enjoy "the first day of your new adult disobedience," but also don't be too much of an outsider that you don't allow yourself to get in there and screw with everything. "Go out into the world and fuck it up beautifully," Waters demands. He's done it in spades. Now it's your turn.

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