It has been a terrible year for graduating classes all over the country. To pick up the spirits of grads everywhere, here is a speech that director John Waters gives today in virtual fashion to the graduating class of the School of Visual Arts. The irreverent Baltimore-based director of films from Hairspray to Pink Flamingos, Polyester and Serial Mom seemed to be determined to motivate and energize a class of grads heading into the most precarious job market in memory. But he often heads into detours, from pondering the inevitable Tiger King Porn film knockoff to a Lori Loughlin shout out, and the possibility that grads might be unique if in fact they have the distinction of possibly being the last graduating class in the world, ever. So it’s not the Braveheart speech, but it’s still pretty entertaining stuff as the offbeat filmmaker dispenses life lessons. Here is his speech. And if you want to watch instead of read, here’s the link:
John Waters Designs Boldly Retro New York Film Festival Poster: "Always Knew I'd Get My Ass In There Somehow!"
“Thank you all very much. I wanted to give this speech live in Radio City Music Hall as scheduled in front of the 5000 graduates, faculty and family members but oh, no, here I am in front of a green screen in Baltimore like some low-rent special- effect Nutty Professor. Now you have to watch me virtually, with no timing for laughs… and once posted I’ll be subject to being rewound or, worse yet, fast-forwarded. Suppose hacker trolls interrupt our on-line ceremony today yelling ‘Quit School’ or ‘Free the Test Cheater mom, Lori Loughlin.’ There’s nothing we could do about it. We’re trapped in a Grade-Z horror movie with no way out.
Ok, I’m supposed to energize. That’s a challenge when every morning you look at the headlines and they all basically say ‘You Are Going To Die Today.’ But I’m an optimist and you should be, too. If you do die tomorrow, at least you got your college degree, right? And suppose the end of the world is happening right now? Well, you won’t miss a thing, will you? Because there will be no more ‘things.’ You will be the last graduating class in the world. Now that’s what I call unique.
Me? I’ve just been lying around at home, paranoid about touching my face and looking forward to the first “Tiger King” porno knockoff. What a time! I bet you never thought the New York Department of Health would issue guidelines recommending masturbation during the pandemic! And those masks? So hot, steaming up your glasses when you’re trying to study, muffling your voice in online classrooms. Protective face coverings threaten my whole identity by hiding my moustache! But I wear these masks anyway for the safety of the prisoners whose bail I’ve recently helped contribute to through various charities. I bet a few of these criminals are robbing your car as I speak. Gloves? Yep, we have them on but don’t they make you feel like Jack the Ripper or, worse yet, an unemployed proctologist. It’s not pretty but who wants cooties? Not me and certainly not you; the smart ones about to get a degree.
But now you have been robbed of a normal graduation, forever branded the Coronavirus Class of 2020. I wish I could be like that billionaire tech investor who last year as commencement speaker pledged to pay off all the graduating students’ college loans. I was going to do the same until all show biz got cancelled and now I’m unemployed. What would I have paid? Your speeding tickets, upcoming beauty parlor bills, all court-ordered fines and of course any
outstanding medical marijuana debts.
Ok, inspirational! You need to stop complaining. Onward! Upward as they say. Positive. You’ll never walk alone. Besides, you’re artists and there never were any real jobs awaiting you in the workforce anyway, were there? Even before this epidemic. So what’s with all the moaning? Artists are magicians. You see what others cannot, have a secret language, the power to make others follow, a dress code all your own and you can change history with one ludicrous idea.
Plus price fixing is legal in your field. Count your arty blessings and march on.
But what do you do if, God forbid, the art market dries up, teaching jobs play hooky, movie theaters don’t reopen, concert halls remain dark and restaurant owners are condemned to a life of carryout? You start over and embrace not working, bumming around just like starving artists used to do. Remember? Dirty clothes, hating success, refusing to sell out? Or you create new ‘career’ opportunities. Before the virus there used to be a job called ‘prison advocate’ where ex-cons teach rich people sentenced to jail how to serve their time. Martha Stewart had a prison advocate. So did Mary Boone. So why not create a new version. A ‘poor advocate’ – train the privileged how to do without. Tell fat-cat art collectors, if they can’t buy an artwork, start dressing like one. Be Jeff Koons’ Puppy for a whole weekend and see how close it will bring your family together. Now that all the charity balls are cancelled in New York City, what’s a society lady supposed to do? She can still buy the latest designer originals but you’d tell her to give them to the homeless instead. Once she saw how much a Comme des Garçons or Yves Saint Laurent outfit would perk up a shelter, she might start a whole new charity for the fashion-deprived.
Some casualties of the virus I applaud. Celebrity culture? Good riddance. Who cares what stars do in quarantine? They do the same as you. They’re bored, they get fat, they’re over-medicated and out of a job. Yet fame has changed radically.
Nurses are the new Marvel heroes who deserve our honorary degrees; doctors have become reality stars in an unscripted battle as they graduate to a treatment; Amazon workers: super models commencing down the runway of warehouses to deliver us toilet paper. Mail carriers and truck divers? They are NFL Super Bowl champions who every day score a diploma for just getting behind the wheel.
You are stars, too, and today is your day to shine. Degrees are like Academy Awards, you have to campaign and sometimes the rules change. Fashion? Ok, a baccalaureate in this is ultra-relevant, but let’s hit the red carpet and take it to the masters level by combining style with artistic nerve. Every day from now until November start dressing head to toe as the candidate you’re going to vote for to be President and Vice-President. Think of the photo-ops. Thousands of you-know-who look-alikes and Joe Biden impersonators sitting next to Mike Pence drag kings and Amy Klobuchar or Elizabeth Warren drag queens on the subway. It would bring us all together!
Yes. Be an activist. But isn’t everybody weary of both sides? Left? Right? Even each other? Think of a whole new way to be radical. Don’t be violent, be funny – climb over that border wall in El Paso and sneak into Mexico. ‘You’re going the wrong way,’ illegal immigrants would shout but you’d yell back, ‘No we don’t speak Spanish, we don’t want jobs, we just want to be in your country and chill.’
Same thing with the ‘Make America Great’ gang – mock us, but be witty. Flaunt Win-a-Date-With Mitch McConnell contests at your rallies. Have a Nancy Pelosi doppelganger dunk tank. ‘Send her back! Send her back!’ You know who will be chanting that soon? Not Republicans! Your own parents when you tell them ‘Because of the current economic climate, I’m thinking of moving back home with you permanently.’ ‘No! Not that! NEVER AGAIN!’
Here’s a piece of good advice – learn to pick your own battles. The ones you can win. Are plastic straws really the biggest issue in America today? Should we go further and ban all plastic utensils and eat with our hands so cockroaches can live? I agree with PETA on some animal rights concerns, but when they argue that using the term ‘pet is derogatory to a dog and compare it to calling a woman ‘sweetie’ or ‘honey,’ I’m not sure they win any converts. Should the Boston Bomber be allowed to vote? Gimme a break! Let’s make sure we can vote first!
Believe me, as you get older some of your views will soften. Things change. Corona used to be only a beer, remember? You learn to reboot yourself. Independent movie theaters — turn them into drive-ins! Dusk-to-Dawn Greta Gerwig. Vegan snack bar. Hollywood? Six-feet-away live action shoots are impossible. So all animation, all the time! Movie stars won’t age. Face lifts will finally be a thing of the past.
You’re never a revolutionary forever. In the ‘60s I wanted to burn the Bank of America down, and today, well my money is deposited there. Do I hear virtual boos? Oh, come on. You’ll change, too! Who knows? You embraced vinyl, maybe the next hipster kids will revive talking on the telephone again and make you look uncool for refusing to do so. The cutting edge dulls with time no matter how hard you try to keep up.
But while you’re still young? Maybe it’s time to become a virus yourself. A good kind of virus, one fueled by the years of hard work you put in at the incubator known as the School of Visual Arts. An asymptomatic intellectual flu that stealthily infects the closed minded, strikes those who judge others first but never themselves. You’ll invade the cells of intolerance on both sides of the political fence, damage systems of discrimination of any kind. Yes, you will make others sick. Sick of sexual harassment, yet not sick of sexual acts themselves. Tired of transphobia but awake to the freedom of gender confusion. You’ll make both liberals’ and conservatives’ throats so dry they’ll never be able to spew hate again.
But remember, you’re sick too. You’re a carrier. You must vomit out your own last traces of racism left over from your ancestors. Sneeze out the toxic nationalism you’ve been force fed from politicians and cough up whatever elitism you’ve been lucky enough to inherit. You must lose your taste for moral superiority and accept the fact that you can’t smell your own smug virtuosity.
Give yourself a fever! Raise your own temperature to high. No 98.6 for you. No testing needed. You’re not the ‘new normal.’ You’re the vaccine. Artists burning up with an urgency for a counterculture that, once injected, refuses to be influenced by mine or any other generation’s. Do it now! When nobody’s looking. When nobody knows what is going to happen next. You and only you will be held responsible if we go back to the same-old, same-old.
Travel beyond the valley of the humor-impaired and over the top of sexual anarchy to a coup d’etat of crackpot capitalism. Yes, capitalism. We live in a capitalist country, don’t we? But it’s now only for the rich and the poor. Who ever thought fighting to bring back the middle class would be an extremist act, but it is. Start the plague against noblesse oblige so the doomsday of traditional solutions that didn’t work can begin. Artists, you are the cure, too! The only people that can inspire the world to notice and then alter its destructive behavior. An asshole-ism
apocalypse is just around the corner, but you have to light the first spark. The Covid-19 commandos!
That’s you! Congratulations! And now it’s time for action. Thank you.
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