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Shock Value: A Tasteful Book About Bad Taste

4.36  ·  Rating details ·  1,985 ratings  ·  106 reviews
To me, bad taste is what entertainment is all about. If someone vomits watching one of my films, it's like getting a standing ovation. Thus begins John Waters's autobiography. And what a story it is. Opening with his upbringing in Baltimore ("Charm City" as dubbed by the tourist board; the "hairdo capital of the world" as dubbed by Waters), it covers his friendship with hi ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published April 5th 2005 by Running Press Adult (first published September 1981)
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Average rating 4.36  · 
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Mar 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Strange enough I think I almost like John Water's writings better then his films. For sure more than his early films i.e. Pink Flamingos, etc. And I am one of the odd one's that love his later films more than his early work.

Nevertheless this is a mid-life John Waters looking back at his early career and it's hysterical. I think he's a great man. i wished he wrote more articles, essays, reviews, etc. He's a great wit.
Apr 26, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone who's got anything on the ball.
Everyone needs their ultimate flagship book of wisdom and life instruction.

For some, it's the Tao Te Ching. For others, it's The Prophet. I know people who even take solace in that one Jesus book.

On a more asthetic level, I think we all choose one book in our youth that colors how we want to look at the world and how we want to be seen. Think On the Road . The Bell Jar. Catcher in the Rye.

For me, well, John Waters' Shock Value fits the latter requirement, and maybe even a little bit of the fo
Feb 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I'm just like, really sad to be finished this book. John Waters is an exceptional story teller and that one hundy percent translates to the page. I have never felt so understood, and so inspired as I did while reading the thoughts, opinions, and stories in this book. Currently googling everything he's ever done. Which book should I read next. So excite. Already want to reread. ...more
Sep 05, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: fellow deviants
You may know John Waters's film work, which includesHairspray, Serial Mom, and Cecil B. Demented. But if you haven't read his books, you don't understand the full extent of his talent.

Shock Value is a series of essays exploring Waters's reverence for everything from serial killers to Russ Meyer movies to bloody amusement park disasters. After reading this book, you'll stop believing there can be such a thing as "guilty pleasures" and start displaying your taped collection of Manson Family parol
Erin the Avid Reader ⚜BFF's with the Cheshire Cat⚜
What a great, fun read! John Waters is one of the coolest men in the world today. Even though his films are probably some of the most revolting in the world behind the disgust there is always genius. Do not judge a book by it's cover.

One of my favorite chapters in the book was his interviews with Russ Meyer's and Herschel Gordon Lewis. While I personally thought Russ Meyer's was a dirty old man Herschel Lewis was probably one of the nicest guys I've ever read about...and he's been labeled the ki
Phil Overeem
Feb 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
If you have ever watched an early Waters film (pre-HAIRSPRAY) and wondered, "WTF????" this book answers the question. Eminently readable, hilarious and outrageous, full of love for the beast called America and its bizarre offspring named Baltimore, SHOCK VALUE also captures forever the last moment in our culture when we could be shocked. Waters' recent struggles to make a decent film are a testament to a burned-out, numbed audience that has already gone over the edge and doesn't know it. Also, a ...more

Five multicolored beehive hairdos and five stiff white pointy bra cups for this.

But why not five stars, you might well ask? We can thank Miss Goody Two Shoes Prissy Boots Junior Achievement 4-H Club snooty britches Angel with her perfect coiffure and sensible shoes, standing there on my shoulder, wrestling with the Devil on my other shoulder while whispering lies into my ears and staying my nasty prone hands. But really, I think it's my fallen Catholic guilt coming back to the fore. Something t
Aug 17, 2008 rated it really liked it
This strange and thoroughly entertaining book was less like a biography of John Waters (how it was initially explained to me) and more like a zine he'd written and turned into a book. There is no real chronology to the stories in the book; instead, it begins with a chapter about the making of "Pink Flamingos", then jumps around from chapter to chapter without any real rhyme or reason. A chapter about Waters's childhood fascination with disasters is followed by chapters about how much he loves Ba ...more
Apr 22, 2009 rated it it was amazing
So happy I decided to dig this one out and read it again. Waters' stuff (especially the stuff pre-1980, which is what this book is all about) is really a life-line for me. When I'm feeling low, he picks me right up. There's so much perverse joy to be found here. Buy a copy for your niece. It'll be the best humanitarian effort you put forth all year. And when you're through with it, do yourself a favor: Re-read the Edith Massey chapter. Life's too short not to... ...more
A great insight into the early years of John Waters' life and career, with detailed background information about the making of such cult classics as "Pink Flamingos" and "Desperate Living". Mandatory reading for fans of not only Waters, but trash, gore and cult cinema, as it features interviews with Waters' muse, Divine, and influences, filmmakers Hershell Gordon Lewis and Russ Meyer. ...more
I finally just bought this; I couldn't put it off any longer because I'm going to see Uncle John give a lecture this Thursday, and there's a book signing afterwards. My goddamned book is getting SIGNED.

ETA: My goddamn book did get signed. :)
Jan 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing
We can forgive Waters' horrible stand-up comedian act he's been fronting because this book is entertaining and funny. I liked the pieces on Russ Meyer, Herschell Gordon Lewis, and anything about the late Divine is immensely readable. ...more
Sean Kottke
Dec 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
Cruise read #9: each cruise, I try to pick a Hollywood gossip or true crime book (previous selections include Hollywood Babylon 1 & 2). Although he's a true Hollywood outsider, Waters' work fits the bill perfectly. He's a class-A ranconteur. ...more
Aug 28, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
He's a dear with a fantastic sense of humor, and it was a pleasure to read this book. ...more
Hank Stuever
Jul 14, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Heroic defense of trash, bad taste, subversion, but never misanthropic or cruel. It's rebellious out of a sense of joy. Which turns out to be a perfectly fine way to approach life. ...more
Jan 22, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I'm not going to try to convince you that John Waters is a brilliant writer, or that the structure of this book always makes sense, but if you are a fan you're going to enjoy this anyway. Read it because you love John Waters and you want to spend a few hours hearing him talk about his career and his friends. ...more
Kyle Burley
Jun 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Funny, and surprisingly charming, memoir of Director John Waters' early life and career. Given how transgressive, and confrontational (and hilarious) his first features are, it's always nice to be reminded what an affable personality he is in real life. Highly recommended to fans of both independent cinema and trash culture. ...more
Hugo Rios-Cordero
Mar 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Waters being Waters. Fun and over the top.
Bradley Morgan
Dec 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015
Published in 1981, "Shock Value" is Waters' first memoir and chronicles his early life, venturing into filmmaking, and the making and reception of his first features ("Pink Flamingos," "Female Trouble," and "Desperate Living"). Through hilariously shocking and witty anecdotes, Waters details his rise as the Prince of Puke including his troublemaking childhood, guerilla filmmaking methods, and shocking the world during his rise to fame. Stories about the Dreamland crew are retold to illustrate th ...more
John Waters is not only a legendary filmmaker - purveyor of self-proclaimed cinematic trash like Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble and Polyester before he became more mainstream with Hairspray in 1988 - as well as a Baltimore institution. This, his first book, published in 1981, is a memoir of his life and work up until that point, looking back on his demented origins and musing on what is to come. It is a must-read for all fans of Waters and his films, though one cannot but wish that he - a gifted ...more
Eve Kay
Apr 20, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, druggie
This was really an interesting read.
As a bonus you got to hear alot of things about Divine, whom I love loads.
It's a shame this was written in such an early state of Waters' career that it felt like it really never got going but all the same, everything in it was worth the read.
I also learned about bad movies and making movies and how they were blown away by their success, which is always very humbling.
Not that I ever thought of Waters as someone who really looked down on the rest of us but I
Nov 12, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Open-minded types with a respect for unconventional outsiders and free-thinking artists
A few nicknames have been given to John Waters through the years, including "King of Bad Taste", "Sultan of Sleaze", and "Pope of Trash" (which was allegedly coined for him by William S. Burroughs and which Waters prefers most).

Waters' book "Shock Value" is a great place to understand just why he's rightfully earned those nicknames. A longtime John Waters buff, I savored every single page, very happy to submerge myself in his...umm...unique creative mindset.

"Shock Value" is honestly laugh-out-lo
Mar 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
And right from the Rolling Stones to John Waters. I think my favorite part is the introduction of his parents complete with pictures. His movies are.... well shocking at times. The characters are unique to keep from groping about for another word.

We were taking the train back from New Orleans when I was reading this. We had a roomette and our train attendant would come and check to see if we needed anything and would stare at my book. Finally as we came into the Birmingham station he exclaimed,
Apr 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This book is great, because it catches John Waters in between subversive anti-social cult hero and famous "Director of Hairspray" cult hero. You get his sharp, dry, off color sense of humor and gritty stories about his unusual, at times disturbing, beginnings. I still tell the story about his friend that went to the doctor for an "ear ache". This guy has been around and he's seen and done some crazy stuff. This book is easy to read because he's hilarious, honest and completely unashamed about al ...more
David Ward
Jun 04, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: film, non-fiction, art
Shock Value: A Tasteful Book About Bad Taste by John Waters (Delta Books 1981)(791.430233) is an early book by the master film maker about himself and his approach to life and to film making. The book describes his early life in Baltimore and provides sketches about each of the special breed of actors with whom he has chosen to collaborate. Of special interest to Waters devotees will be the numerous photos from the author's collection of a young Divine and of the lovely and talented Edith Massey ...more
Jan 21, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: film
Oh, John Waters, never change.

This book is an episodic collection of essays - some about the making of his movies (the most coverage is given to "Female Trouble", which works for me as it's my favorite), some about being a criminal groupie, why Baltimore should embrace its trashy side, why Divine is the most beautiful woman in the world, and one notable essay about Waters's parents and their reactions to his films and fellow Dreamlanders.

The best thing about this book is that you can hear John W
Sep 24, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book. There were some cool stories from his sets, but I had heard most of the "personal" things before. And I was very disappointed to learn what Mole was like in real life. John Waters is kind of fun, kind of annoying like the uncle who overstays his welcome on his annual visit. You're pretty tired of hearing the same stories, but you stay up to hear them anyway. I have hard that one of his books has really poor screen shots of his television screen, so you could see what TV John ...more
Kaira Tucker
Jan 04, 2010 rated it really liked it
John Waters is one individual about whom you cannot say something to the effect of, "he could write a book/make a film about dog crap & I would love it," because, well, yeah. So, I will just say this: John Waters could write about gun totin' homophobic neofascists on their way to the mall to buy a stockpile of American flags, Hickory Farms gift sausages, and M80's (now available at your local GAP), and OF COURSE I would read it! It sounds like something that he would do anyway.

Why is he NOT my u
Jul 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
I feel like I have a new perspective on John Waters films, and am curious to watch his earlier works over again. I loved how he described his parents and their reaction to his friends and his films and later the criticism of their parenting. This is the first book I've read in a while with multiple pages of photographs, but that just added more interest to his stories- like the one of Divine covered in blood in a bathing suit with a caption that says "Divine was in this outfit when my parents fi ...more
Jan 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, humor
At this point, I think I've heard John Waters tell every one of his anectotes at least twice, but I somehow never get tired of them. This is much of the same material you'll find on commentary tracks to his movies, in interviews, and at one of his talks. His off-kilter sense of humor never gets old (for me, at least), but I have to admit this material is much better when you hear his delivery. What did I expect, really...the guy makes movies, not great literature. ...more
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John Samuel Waters, Jr. is an American filmmaker, actor, writer, personality, visual artist and art collector, who rose to fame in the early 1970s for his transgressive cult films: Pink Flamingos and Hairspray. He is recognizable by his pencil-thin moustache.

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