Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Being even feels so odd

A pivotal scene from John Waters' A Dirty Shame

John Waters' A Dirty Shame (2004) -- to date, the Baltimore provocateur's latest film --  is a crude, often lowbrow and childish slapstick sex comedy which features CGI squirrels, gigantic fake breasts, obscene shrubbery, and a David Hasselhoff cameo. In other words, even though I'm proud to have it in my DVD collection, it is not exactly Oscar bait.

But it does contain a scene which has been running through my head a lot these last few days.

The plot in a nutshell: uptight Baltimore wife and mother Sylvia Stickles (Tracey Ullman) gets a concussion which turns her into an unapologetic, promiscuous sex addict. Soon, she finds herself part of a cult of sex addicts led by the mysterious Ray Ray (Johnny Knoxville) and realizes that many seemingly "normal" members of her community are sex addicts as well. Ultimately, there is a chaotic war for control of the neighborhood, with sex addicts on one side and the prudish, judgmental "neuters" (led by Waters' resident villainess Mink Stole) on the other. I think you can guess who wins.

Anyway, at one point, Sylvia's concerned husband and mother have a doctor visit the Stickles household, and there he tries to convince both Sylvia and her similarly-libidinous daughter Caprice a.k.a. Ursula Udders (Selma Blair, wearing an absurd prosthetic chest) that their problems can be solved through pharmaceuticals. Selma Blair vehemently protests ("I'm NOT depressed!") but ultimately is coerced into taking the pills.

The uneven John Waters
John Waters always does hilarious, informative commentary tracks on his movies, and his remarks during this scene are fascinating:
"I always have in all my movies, like, different doctors forcing medication on people. You know, I think tranquilizers are good for people that are chemically depressed, but I also think every brand is completely over-prescribed. What happened to 'the talking cure' with psychiatrists? They don't have that anymore! I'm for that! I don't want to be 'even.' I'm on her side here when she says, 'I'm not depressed!' Being 'even' sounds worse than being depressed."
I may well be chemically depressed. I don't know. I'm not a doctor. But I share Waters' skepticism of being "even." If there were one word I wish I could ban from the critical vocabulary, it would be "uneven." Critics, both professional and amateur, are constantly complaining these days about works being "uneven." Since when did evenness become the standard by which art is judged. Whatever happened to consistency being "the hobgoblin of little minds?" To me, evenness is for sideburns, suburban lawns, and wallpaper. It's not for art and definitely not for comedy.

I used to theorize that the rise of the word "uneven" as a critical cliche was a side effect of all the mood-stabilizing drugs we've been gobbling up as a society. Well, now I'm actually on at least two of those drugs, and I worry about being too flat emotionally and losing the highs and lows which make life entertaining. It's true that I have some crushing, even life-threatening lows, but there's a goofy, playful side to my personality, too. I don't want to lose that side of myself. Lately, that part of myself seems to have evaporated.

Fortunately, I had my first meeting with my new therapist today, and it went very well. I explained a lot of these fears to her, and she completely understood what I meant. She said that my body would eventually adjust to the medications and, if it didn't, those medications could be switched until we could find a combination which worked for me. That was extremely encouraging news. I want Joe Blevins to be well, but I don't want "Wayne Kotke" (my silly side) to go away either.

Financially, I think I'm going to be able to handle this treatment without having to ask relatives for help. I'm fortunate to have a bit of a cushion to fall back on and no existing debts or dependents. But if I end up selling pencils on the street, you'll know what happened.


  1. Very glad to hear that you seem to be in the hands of a very capable professional. And confused as to whether or not I've seen A Dirty Shame. I'm confusing it with Cecil B. Demented. I still don't know which is which.

    If you need anything, be it a pencil buyer, do not hesitate to ask.

  2. Yeah, my therapist is great. Definitely see A Dirty Shame again on DVD. At first, it will seem like a really dumb slapstick comedy with a juvenile mentality -- which it totally is. I can completely understand why critics trashed it. But then watch it with the commentary track, and it's hilarious. There's so much I missed -- little background jokes and references that went sailing past me.

    Crash course: Cecil B. Demented = Stephen Dorff kidnaps Melanie Griffith and forces her to be in a terrorist underground movie. Dirty Shame = Tracey Ullman gets hit on the noggin and becomes a nympho. Cecil's a lot better with the commentary track, too.

    I just listened to the Feminine Critique today, and I was thrilled by the reference to Serial Mom -- to me, the gem of Waters' post-Divine films. That's good with or without the commentary track.

  3. gah! had a whole para that got eaten when i tried to login. uh-first, i really love "wayne kotke" and have enjoyed your productions for years. second, i was diagnosed as bipolar when i was 35 (a bit behind, they were) and have been on various meds since-well, and before, for anxiety and depression. i have often been very ambivalent about the medications, because, well for a lot of reasons, but mostly because i was bright and interesting and funny, people really liked me (and hated me when they realised what i was really like). then the meds flattened me. i have been vigilant about what and how much meds i took, and have fallen into a reasonable compromise-i'm still weird, but i wouldn't get fired. i hope you will find that median as well. if you want to know about any of my LENGTHY pharma history, i'm glad to tell you.

  4. Hi, Ren Chart!

    First off, thanks for writing. I'm so glad you've liked my past work. One of the best aspects of this experience is the fact that a lot of people who know my work from this blog or from Mail Order Zombie or other podcasts have come forward to share their own stories. Like you, I'm ambivalent about the medications. I want to be able to control my moods a bit better, but I don't want to lose the silly part of my personality either.

    If you'd like to share your story, that would be great. If you want to do so through commenting on this blog, that's fine. Or you can always e-mail me!

    Again, I'm so grateful for commenters like you!