John Waters has a bit of advice for all you parents: "When you see your kids acting out weird stuff, let them! Encourage your kids' weirdo fantasies."
Acting out weirdo fantasies, of course, has been a great method of making a significant mark on pop culture for the always-hilarious director/author, who spoke Wednesday night's ‘‘Evenings with . . ." program at Miami Book Fair International about his new memoir, Role Models (Farrar Straus and Giroux, $25).
Naturally, Waters' role models are a bit different from your typical list of ex-presidents or grandly heroic figures. They range from Tennessee Williams to Johnny Mathis to lesbian stripper Lady Zorro to Manson groupie and killer Leslie Van Houton. But what else would you expect from the guy William Burroughs called "the Pope of Trash," who is responsible for the gross-out epic Pink Flamingos?
The nattily attired Waters was interviewed by Brett Sokol, the arts editor of Ocean Drive magazine, and the raconteur - he also made Polyester, Crybaby, Hairspray and A Dirty Shame, among others - had wit to spare. Asked whether the Internet had changed things for him, Waters replied dryly, "Well, porn's free."
The Chapman Conference Center at Miami Dade College was packed, with the usual book fair loyalists to be sure, but also a striking number of younger audience members (a few with punk-tinted hair) amid the crowd. Twentysomethings showing up to hear a 65-year-old talk about a book seems a bit surprising when you realize they weren't even born when Waters made Pink Flamingos in 1972.
To Waters, though, college kids lining up to ask questions wasn't odd.
"The older I get, the younger my audience gets," he said. "I have become the Filth Elder."
Waters talked about his childhood in Baltimore (‘‘The '50s were a terrible time, believe me. You had to be like everybody else, and I didn't want to be like everybody else''); his good friend Divine, who starred in many of his films and with whom he was once thrown off a beach in Key West (the cop said they couldn't sit there on a bench ‘‘looking like that''); the fact that though he was once cutting-edge, he haunts bookstores when he travels and refuses to watch movies on DVD.
"I go to the movies all the time," he said. "On opening weekend. Only old people do that."
Getting financed is tougher these days, he acknowledged, saying that studios want to buy cheap films from young filmmakers. "They want Paranormal Activity."
But he's no longer interested in that sort of work.
‘‘I can't be faux guerrilla," he lamented. "I don't have the outfits anymore."