The films of John Waters carry with them the theme of suburban unrest can result in individuals who live outside the law. From Pink Flamingos through A Dirty Shame he fixates on the outsider from the suburban norm and what the inability to conform can do to the psyche. His works raise questions about drugs, sex, rock and roll, family, sexuality, normalcy, heteronormative dominance, filth and its place in the human condition. His filth filled view of the suburban American dream when viewed in modern times is a surprisingly accurate take on where America was and is headed and what obsessions would become glorified in the current age of instant media and sensationalism. His knowledge that titillation was more important that morality remains a spot on critique of current culture and the instant fame of murders and thugs due to media saturation and repetition of their heinous crimes in the twenty four hour news cycle.
Waters uses saturation of shocking images and violence to make his point. His repetition of shock and horror to engross the public is at its slick best in Female Trouble. This repetition of shock and awe is common practice in todays xenophobic American Culture and was used to the extreme by George Bush and his comrades during 9/11 when all else was blocked from our televisions for three days showing us violence and promising the threat of more. It was shortly after we were blindly led into wars with little national resistance from the newly terrorized public. Dawn Davenport is the American use of fear in the shape of a large high school ruffian and she will get her way by asserting dominance like the US itself does. Waters knows who is to blame and so does Dawn and neither one is about to apologize for what will come next!
Dawns behavior in her school is not only pointing to the brazen high school delinquent authority issues. It calls into focus something far more troubling; the selfish greed our children are raised to feel as they are taught through media to succeed at any cost. Fame and riches are the goal and we can and should get them without lifting a finger. We are taught we are owed everting just because we are American. Businessmen, politicians and everyday people are clawing their way to the top bending ethics and subjecting morals to personal purpose. The character of the glutenous Dawn is repeated in characters today like Eric Cartmen on televisions South Park. He is the cartoon fourth grade Dawn Davenport and his behavior is still shocking to us because we recognize this inherent selfishness in our culture and realize our consumerism has trapped us in this cycle.
In his crowning masterpiece Female Trouble we see through the life of Dawn Davenport all that was, is, and will be the driving themes of todays mass media culture created by the masses for the masses in never ending loops. As the movie starts we meet Dawn Davenport and her delinquent cohorts Chicklett and Conchetta who are bored with life*s offerings in high school. Learning very little in classes they spend their time smoking, spraying their enormous hair do*s and eating a meatball submarine sandwich right out in class. When their behavior is called to the attention of the overwhelmed mousey teacher they use threats to gain power over their accusers.
This movie is a prediction to the rash of violence that students have been committing on each other in great numbers in recent years. Gun toting students who do not fit in to the model society are frequently turning to violence against their peers to express their grave discontent. Since the mass coverage of the 1999 Colombine high school shooting grabbed national attention and made a house hold name out of the frustrated students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold who killed over twelve students. They became the required viewing for concerned Americans as they watched the students flee for their lives. We heard the sound of shots over and over like the loop of and experimental film. Every station and all day long for days we watched the events unfold until our brains were etched with their images. These images would be repeated as copy cat students disenfranchised with the suburban American dream shot their way through their despair, piling student bodies on the heap of discontent. Alarmingly the violence is now being served to the students of elementary schools as witnessed in Sandy Hook. Even the most vulnerable are at risk now for instant notoriety.
What many fail to see in Female Trouble is that Waters gives us the solution and the reasons to senseless violence. Firstly the movie blames poorly run schools; that are use more as containment devices for the youth population as their parents work at endless jobs to provide the American dream. Coupled with teachers low wages. With and education system that lacks funding and tools we instead ignore what this ignorance breeds in our children we continue to look to the next status symbol that will bring happiness. We are bombarded several hundred times a day by images of what it is we must achieve materially to find happiness. The aim to have it all, a house, kids, car and cha cha heels!
Dawn become pregnant instantly after leaving home, due to the disappointment on Christmas morning when she gets dress flats instead of the much desired cha cha heels. Her pregnancy is similar to that of Jesus in that there was really only one person involved as she rapes herself on a dirty mattress by the side of the road. We through Dawns experience are literally told that we are fucking ourselves. With no education and a man who refuses to accept his responsibility for the child Dawn has an at home birth where she chews the umbilical cord with her own teeth her life as a mother begins.
Dawn sets out to provide for little daughter Taffy by being a waitress, a go go dancer, and eventually turns to a life of petty crime to support her daughter and get on track for the suburban dream. As her criminal tendency grows so does Taffy and the mother act wears thin. Taffy is chained to her bed by Dawn and her crime pals for annoying them after a heist. This is Waters stabbing directly at the heart of American folklore; family unity. For years we watch Ozzie and Harriet, the Cleavers and Donna Reed raised polite children that lived in homes with white fences and aproned mothers who baked pies and lived a happy life. Dawns is a story we were not told until the idea that sensationalism sells took over the board rooms of Madison Ave.
Dawns plight has now become exploited in our current media we have the like of Nadia Sullman a down on her luck, plastic surgery nightmare who found a doctor willing to give her sextuplets. She has 8 children and millions of hours of coverage on national and international news and talk shows, media of all sorts have obsessed over her. We paid her to undress for our titillation . She even has an exercise video for sale. A cottage industry out of a selfish childish action involving the lives of innocents. Shows like Jerry Spinger and reality darling Honey Boo Boo use laughing at the poor and uneducated acceptable and entertaining while ignoring that gangs, religious zealots, and the hopeless had reached epidemic proportions in our society. The Dawn Davenports are leading to violence and reactionary behavior due to lack of education and the pursuit of hollow consumerist dreams. The American dream was cracking in the 1970*s and Waters knew a world full of Dawn Davenports was about to be hatched.
As Dawn become more of a celebrity in the criminal world, well on her way to become famed criminal like Bonnie Parket or Stephanie St Clair, she finds that crime does indeed pay. Having been accepted as a client at the famed Lipstick Beauty Salon where only the most beautiful of the underground are accepted as clients her status rises to the next level. The hairdressers are three queens Wink, Butterfly and Dribble who are a nelly, a mary and a speed freak. Gator, the lone straight hairdresser and star of the salon, is chosen by rising star Dawn to be her attendant and a marriage soon ensues. The vision of Divine, a drag queen, in a revealing dress of lace marching down the isle is a brilliant commentary on todays battle for * marriage equality * and the desire to mimic heteronormative behavior instead of embracing the rituals of queer culture. It is a stab at the idea of what marriage is and what it represents. It has become a privilege that brings with it status and tax breaks. When arguing for marriage equality the number one argument was to save money on taxes not to strengthen a commitment. It is our greed that drives us even in matters of the heart.
The wedding scene we again see Waters takes the normal and subverts it to the bizarre and questions the very ideals of normalcy. Even Dawn*s new mother in law Ida is a bizarre creature, played by the true live bizarre woman Edith Massey, dressed in tight revealing black as her beloved Gator continues down the straight heterosexual path. Ida had warned her son of the evil and depraved life of the heterosexual and tries without success to make her son gay and free from the constructs of the American dream and its devotion to following the rules and fitting in. If Divine as Dawn is the anti hero then Edith Massey plays Ida as the anti anti hero. She finds her new daughter in law intolerable and even dumps garbage into the newlyweds yard signifying the refuse of the consumerist herteronormative path her son has chosen, thus breaking her heart.
However Ida need not worry for her son Gator will soon leave Dawn, loose his job and move to the fair city of Detroit to find solace in the automotive industry. ( The irony in hindsight is even more cutting than in 1974. Certainly it is even a bigger joke to find solace in an industry that has all but vanished in America leaving Detroit a virtual ghost town. ) Gator and Dawn had tried everything from hammers and pliers to down right abuse. Gator had even tried to get poor old looking stepdaughter Taffy to share his bed or suck his dick. For all his pains Gator is left with nothing after his brief marriage to Dawn. He looses everything as Dawn plots her rise to stardoms next step.
But Dawn does continue to rise in fame eventually becoming a model addicted to flash bulbs, fame and injections of liquid eyeliner. Her new agents, the Fashionable owners of the Lipstick Beauty Salon, are the wealthy Donald and Donna Dasher obsessed with the underground. They are the lampoon of the Warhol phenomenon and the idea that slumming is a rich peoples pleasure. The Dashers for their own pleasure; since they have no sexual out let, introduced Dawn to the glamorous world of modeling and crime for their vicarious thrill. They photograph her as she act out and garners any attention and most of it negative. Dawn goes to dinner at the Dasher home and on the way we see regular folks gasp in shock at the delusional model prancing down the street rubbing herself and mugging every few feet. Upon arriving she deludedly exclaims, * I got Lots of attention on the way over. Everyone was staring at me. I feel like a Princess!*
Dawn has fallen into the trap of fame and believing ones own press. She is Lyndsy Lohan, Paris Hilton, Courtney Love, Alex Baldwin and a slew of other Hollywood elite who act out due to believing their own press and allowing themselves to act in beastly ways because fame has made them other. Dawn is the hoards of people who clammer to get onto a reality show like the Hills or Americas Next Top Model, to be famous and on TV, for no reason other than fame. She is the Kardashian girls cashing in on a sex tape and spoiled behavior to earn millions and to teach young girls that if you are snotty and conniving enough you can live the life of Riley without ever having to really contribute anything.
Dawn is a comment on the fashion industry; that since the seventies; had begun to create household names out of mannequins that took beautiful picture to sell the American dream in glossy magazines. Dawn believes she is the face of the time gracing the ads that made you desire what garment makers and ad men needed to sell.
Of corse Dawn is a 300 pound drag queen in reality. She is also living in a delusional state as almost all Waters films tend to be. Who else but Dawn Davenport who would continue modeling even after a horrible acid attack by her former mother in law who had just escaped from imprisonment as a rare bird in Dawns home where she lost an arm in her struggles. It is ludicrous to think that this is what models are like.... or is it? Gia a famed model in the early 1980*s often had her abscessed arm, from shooting heroin, covered up. Later the Supermodel Linda Evangelista would not get out of bed for under $10,000 a day. Beauty at any price, with the it girl of the moment, giving prestige to a product that is manufactured and sold by delusion of happiness being provided and making us like the model who sells it. Little do we know it is just a spoiled brat who makes too much money or a junkie propped up to look glamorous. We but the delusion and Waters serves this delusion right to us in the form of Dawn Davenport.
But like so many of the stars that grace the covers of magazines, star in a show or two and get a taste for the American dream the fall from grace can be deadly; as is the case for our anti hero Dawn Davenport. Taffy has followed the rout of Jesus, the other immaculate conception, and found spirituality with the Hare Krishna giving up all possessions enraging her mother. Dawn like Michael Jackson in his last days has only yes men around her. Pumping her full of liquid eyeliner to get one more headline out of her while she is still able to work because like Naiomi Cambell she is becoming increasingly hard to control. Dawn has lost control of her fame and the machine has taken over and like Britney Spears she just can not maintain.
Dawn reaches the height of her criminal fame when after bouncing on a trampoline and smearing fish all over her body in a crib she turns on the audience that made her, with a gun. She cries out * I framed Leslie Bacon. I called the Heroin hotline on Abbie Hoffman! I bought the gun that Bremmer used to kill Wallace! I had an affair with Juan Corona! I blew Richard Speck and I am so fucking beautiful I cant stand it myself!!!! Dawn Opens fire as a devoted fan decides he wants to die for art. Like any number of celebrity breakdowns of the famed hollywood set Dawn has gone to far and there is no coming back. She will not get the Robert Downey forgiveness and a second chance. Instead like all actresses that misbehave enough there is no one that will come to Dawns aid. She is washed up.
Dawn like the litany of names she unleashes is doomed for obscurity. Like Andrew Cunanan her day in the spotlight had come but it is over. Americans have a new killer to lust after. A new rich coat hanger has just signed to Victoria*s Secret for half a billion dollars. TV sweetheart Cory Monteith has overdosed in a hotel and David Lettermen is fucking a staff person. We do not have time to remember Dawn Davenport. Waters knows that the American society is on the the next big thing, the overnight sensation, the killer on the front page. The American dream has become the suburban nightmare and we like Dawn are doomed to be electrocuted for our obsessions and desires. Dawns last close up is the face of death and as Waters has predicted in Female Trouble ours will be as well, so you might as well enjoy the ride.