John Waters wants you to Make Trouble | Lit Feature | Chicago Reader

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John Waters wants you to Make Trouble

The filmmaker shares his advice to young artists in a new book ahead of his Chicago Humanities Festival appearance.

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Make Trouble is like John Waters's version of Dr. Seuss's Oh, the Places You'll Go! The latest published work by the filmmaker, aka the "people's pervert" (a title given by Guernica magazine that Waters has lovingly embraced), is an illustrated version of the commencement speech he gave to the Rhode Island School of Design's graduating class of 2015. Eric Hanson's crude line drawings, paired with Waters's unconventional advice—"design clothes so hideous they can't be worn ironically"—provide a brief but insightful glimpse into Waters's mind in an easily digestible package.

Unexpectedly, Waters emphasizes the idea of being an insider. On the surface, his films seem to praise outsiders: the heroes in Cry-Baby are juvenile delinquents, Multiple Maniacs is a violent and sacrilegious descent into madness, and Pink Flamingos is all about pushing the boundaries of taboo behavior. But Make Trouble is also about the ways in which people on the fringe can infiltrate society. Despite his cult status, Waters discovered means of slipping his eccentric ideas into mainstream pop culture. He refers to the 2002 Broadway musical version of Hairspray, his subversive 1988 film about race and sexuality, as his Trojan horse. Today it's accepted as appropriate high school theater in the depths of middle America—that's about as inside as you can get. Through that single commercial success, unlikely audiences discovered his most obscure work. Waters went on to create fine art, write books, and, most recently, appear in the television show Feud: Bette and Joan.

Hanson's black-and-white illustrations look like they could've been scrawled by Waters himself in the margins of his speech. Some are simple, like a ball of tangled lines interrupting the phrase "Contemporary art's job is to wreck what came before." The most Seuss-like image depicts two people climbing a wobbly ladder leading to the top of the world. In all cases, there's a sense of manic creation, and an unfinished quality to each drawing that underscores the conceit of the book—the artistic guidelines are in place, and it's time for the reader to take it from there.

In the end, Make Trouble is less "places you'll go" and more "things you'll do," a lesson in accepting and even seeking failure instead of remaining comfortable, and a plea to appeal to the similarities between enemies instead of fighting over the differences. In sharing his philosophy, Waters seemsHair to be passing the torch to the next generation of creative people: "Go out in the world," he writes, "and fuck it up beautifully."  v

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