Imagining What Trashy John Waters Would Do With a Grandiose President Trump

Journalism is full of predictable put-downs of President Trump; here’s one with a wonderfully dark sense of humor—written by Alex Halberstadt in the New York Times Magazine—that plays off of one of John Waters’s stranger movies, “Desperate Living”:

For a small but dedicated cadre of fans, “Desperate Living,” John Waters’s fifth and most difficult to watch commercial feature, released in 1977, occupies the highest peak atop the director’s trash heap of a filmography.

Here’s how the film begins: Hours after being discharged from a psychiatric hospital, a housewife named Peggy Gravel flees Baltimore’s affluent Guilford neighborhood, where she has just murdered her husband. Her accomplice is her 400-pound maid, Grizelda Brown. Peggy speaks in a screech of affronted privilege, and her politics are right-wing grotesque. As she pilots her white Mercedes along a wooded road, she exclaims: “Look at those disgusting trees stealing my oxygen! … I want cement covering every blade of grass in this nation. Don’t we taxpayers have a voice anymore?” Later, they flee to Mortville, a kind of shantytown haven for criminals and other social and sexual outcasts. . . .

Consider Mortville. (“Not as in ‘death,’ ” Waters explained to me recently, “but as in ‘mortified.’ ”) It is a model of inequality: Its residents live in grinding poverty, all except their ruler, the bejeweled Queen Carlotta, who operates the town as a tourist attraction; early in the film, we see slumming visitors in fur coats snapping photos of the destitute locals (did Waters predict Instagram, too?). “I’m not responsible for your income, your living conditions or your personal happiness,” Carlotta announces to her hapless subjects. While they subsist on roadkill, she feasts on pizza and marshmallows.

You can’t help noticing certain parallels between Carlotta and the current head of our executive branch. She’s grandiose: “Every word I ever utter,” she announces, “is to be taken as a direct royal proclamation.” She thrives on insults: While being paraded past Mortville’s citizens atop a litter, she greets them by shouting: “Hi, Stupid. Hi, Ugly.” She’s grossly libidinous: After one of her soldiers, dressed in S. & M. gear, strips for her, she spanks him, memorably exclaiming, “This will teach you to arouse royalty.” And she manages to co-opt otherwise respectable conservatives into joining her regime: By the film’s end, Peggy has become Carlotta’s second in ­command — a twitchy, distaff Mike Pence — and is scheming to inject all of Mortville with rabies.

Speak Your Mind