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John Waters’s Role Models

John Waters, Pink Flamingos, 1972, still from a color film in 35 mm, 93 minutes. Divine/Babs Johnson (Divine).

Role Models, by John Waters. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010. 304 pages. $25.

IN HIS NOVELLA Tonio Kröger, Thomas Mann writes, “Only a beginner believes those who create feel.” Kröger is a young middle-class German who considers himself manqué both as a bourgeois and as an artist. John Waters might be the anti-Kröger—a well-off, middle-class man whose life and art mock high, low, middle, and all their fuzzy gradations. He’s an aesthete and an anti-aesthete; he’s classy and classless. Filmmaker, artist, writer, actor, Waters revels in spectacle and spectatorship; and the joys of making, being, and observing fill the pages of Role Models, his new collection of essays. In Mann’s terms, Waters might be that rare creature: an artist who feels.

Early in his career, Waters became known for films depicting bizarre characters in outrageous, super-melodramatic situations, as

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