John Waters, one the greatest human beings in existence, recently delivered a commencement speech to the 2015 graduating class of Rhode Island School of Design. The “Pope of Trash” is best known for his subversive film canon, but his books, stand-up routines and now, this graduation speech, contain unparalleled wit and wisdom that can be appreciated by many. Waters, who has been doing what he loves for “50 years without ever having to get a real job,” inspires people of any age, whether they’re graduating art scholars or not.

Waters encouraged graduates to “prepare sneak attacks on society” and described 1988’s Hairspray as the only “really devious movie” he ever made because the musical that was based on it is now performed in high schools across the country. “Nobody seems to notice it’s a show with two men singing a love song to each other that also encourages white teen girls to date black guys,” he said. “Pink Flamingos was preaching to the converted, but Hairspray is a Trojan horse: It snuck into middle America and never got caught. You can do the same thing.”

Waters on making enemies laugh:

Listen to your political enemies, especially the smart ones, and then figure out a way to make them laugh. Nobody likes a bore on a soapbox. Humor is always the best defense and weapon. If you can make an idiot laugh, they’ll at least pause and listen before they do something stupid, to you.

On trigger warnings:

The amazing concept I’ve heard about is where you’re supposed to warn students if you’re gonna talk about something that challenges their values? I thought that’s why you went to college. My whole life has been a trigger warning, but you have been warned. So the trigger warning is in effect, and now back to the prepared speech.

On rich people:

Don’t hate all rich people. They’re not all awful. Believe me, I know some evil poor people, too. We need some rich people. Who else is going to back our movies or buy our art? I’m rich! I don’t mean money-wise. I mean that I have figured out how to never be around assholes at any time in my personal and professional life. That’s rich.

It’s okay to hate the poor, too, but only the poor of spirit, not wealth. A poor person to me can have a big bank balance but is stupid by choice: uncurious, judgmental, isolated and unavailable to change.

Emphasis mine because that’s how I like to measure my wealth, too.

And his final gem:

Here’s another trigger warning: Go out in the world and fuck it up beautifully. Design clothes so hideous that they can’t be worn ironically. Horrify us with new ideas. Outrage outdated critics. Use technology for transgression, not lazy social living. Make me nervous!


Contact the author at marie.lodi@jezebel.com.

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