Originally published in FUSE Online, 21 March 2012 (http://www.fusemagazine.com.au/index.php/regulars/op-ed/2217-role-models-by-john-waters)
When we think of role models we think of sports hero, rock stars and Hollywood hunks.
But, how about having a porn star as your role model? Or an alcoholic, verbally abusive owner of a local bar? Or, how about a member of the Manson family? For most people it would seem a ridiculous proposition, but for John Waters these are, amongst many others the very people he considers to be his role models. In Waters new book, ‘Role Models’, he takes readers through the stories of the people he considers to be his Role Models.
For those who are unfamiliar with Waters (and unfortunately if you read the book, you only get little insights into his life and career), he is a queer, cult hero. Waters is most famous for his work in movies, with his major successes being ‘Pink Flamingos’ and ‘Hairspray’. Waters also has an illustrious career in writing and other art forms – something that has made him a hero in queer, movie and art circles around the world.
( IMAGE: Pink Flamingos is a 1972 transgressive black comedy film written, produced, composed, shot, edited, and directed by John Waters. When the film was initially released, it caused a huge degree of controversy due to the wide range of perverse acts performed in explicit detail. It has since become one of the most notorious films ever made. It made an underground star of the flamboyant drag queen actor, Divine.)
In his new book, Waters takes a look at his own life and the characters that he has been surrounded by in throughout his life. The book takes you on a journey through a range of different stories, where Waters looks at the lives of each of the people who have shaped his life. These people are as diverse as they are interesting – they range from famous author Tennessee Williams, musician Stevie Wonder and fashion icon Rei Kawakubo to the more obscure, such as porn star Bobby Garcia, member of the Manson Family Leslie Van Houten and members of his community in Baltimore, bar owners Esther Martin.
Through each of these stories, Waters provides an engaging and entertaining narrative about the people who have shaped his life. And it is in this narrative that the real story behind Role Models develops. What Waters does is show that the people we may not normally consider to be worthy of being our Role Models can in fact be inspirations. Take Leslie Van Houten for example. In describing his relationship with this infamous member of the Manson family, Waters takes readers on a journey of a woman, who although once committed a heinous crime, is a kind, caring person who is suffering more than she deserves.
And that is what is great about the book. Waters manages to challenge how we think about role models in our society. Yet, it is in this analysis that Waters book can be criticised. Whilst engaging, the book is simply a collection of stories, and it lacks much of an overarching narrative. We don’t see an analysis of either the role of role models in shaping Waters and his work, nor as to why this work provides an interesting analysis to the world Waters lives in.
Simply put, it is hard to know why Waters wrote the book – was it to challenge our ideas of Role Models, or simply to provide an interesting collection of stories? I think the value of Waters’ book clearly lies in the former, but it is unfortunate that he doesn’t make that step and provide an overarching analysis to this work.
Despite this however, Role Models, is an engaging, and extraordinarily interesting work. Waters is a clear, concise and interesting author who writes with wit and charm. For anyone interested in the life of this cult hero, the idea of role models and hero idolisation in our society or just want to read an engaging novel, Water’s book is definitely worth the read.
Rating: 4 stars
Role Models is availabe at good book stores or at :http://www.amazon.com