John Waters at RISD on innovation: ‘Read! Read! Read! … Be nosy!’

WHY are we sharing the video of controversial moviemaker John Waters at the Rhode Island School of Design? First, because National Public Radio says it’s one of the best, short graduation speeches of 2015. Yes, it’s true: John Waters built his career on shocking—intentionally grossing out—audiences. And, he does use a bit of R-rated language toward the end of his talk.

But, he’s also one of our great media sages. He’s an aging and mostly harmless old lion, these days. As he points out in this talk, his musical Hair Spray is performed each year in countless American high schools.

We are sharing this video clip because, if nothing else, John Waters understands the engine of American culture and the need to shove past earlier models and so-called experts to keep innovating!


Because you’re likely to want to quote from this video, we’ve got some of the best lines right here—all set to share on social media, to email to a friend, to print out and hand around:

Pay no mind if you are initially turned down. A career in the arts is like a hitchhiking trip. All you need is one person to say, “Get in!” And, off you go!

Keep up with what’s causing chaos in your own field.

Read! Read! Read! Watch people on the street! Spy! Be nosy! Eavesdrop!

You need to prepare sneak attacks on society.

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.

Refuse to isolate yourself. Separatism is for losers.

The truth of maturity will come to families if every member is patient.

Contemporary art’s job is to wreck what came before.

Go out in the world and @#!$ 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 Outrage outdated critics.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!

And finally count your blessings! It’s time to get busy. It’s your turn to cause trouble. This time in the real world. And this time from the inside.


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