Third Degree: Round One

Dver took me up on the challenge, proposing “Pink Flamingos,” which is a 1972 American transgressive black comedy exploitation crime film directed, written, produced, filmed, and edited by John Waters, during which “a bizarre fat woman (Divine) and her misfit family compete with a Baltimore couple (David Lochary, Mink Stole) to be named the filthiest people alive.”


According to Wikipedia:

Underground criminal Divine lives under the pseudonym “Babs Johnson” with her mentally ill, egg-loving mother Edie, delinquent son Crackers, and traveling companion Cotton. They all live together in a pink and green trailer on the outskirts of Phoenix, Maryland, in front of which can be found a gazing ball alongside a pair of eponymous plastic pink flamingos. After learning that Divine has been named “the filthiest person alive” by a tabloid paper, jealous rivals Connie and Raymond Marble set out to destroy her career but come undone in the process. The Marbles run an “adoption clinic”, which is actually a black market baby ring. They kidnap young women, have them impregnated by their manservant, Channing, and sell the babies to lesbian couples. The proceeds are used to finance a network of dealers selling heroin in inner-city elementary schools. Raymond also gets money by exposing himself (with large kielbasa sausages tied to his penis) to unsuspecting women in a park and stealing their purses when they flee.

This sort of criminal inversion of social norms, particularly with regard to ritualized cross-dressing, was a component in the Italian cults of Dionysos, especially at Naples as scholar Giovanni Casadio notes in his study, Dionysus in Campania:

Let us now revert to Aristodemus. Besides his uncontrolled—but ritual—wine-drinking habit, which proved his undoing in the end, another indication of his membership in the bakchoi brotherhood comes from an explicit insinuation made by those same local historians from whom Dionysius of Halicarnassus derived his information: as a boy he once acted as femminiello (a Neapolitan word sounding like “drag queen” and corresponding exactly to the Greek thēlydria) καὶ τὰ γυναιξίν ἁρμόττοντα ἔπασχεν, which is an explicit exegesis of the particular initiation to which the god himself had been subjected in the mythical-ritual complex of Lerna and to which were also subjected (with varying degrees of enjoyment) the Roman youths involved in the so-called Bacchanalia affair … This was presumably the last phase in a process of successive rearrangements and functional re-adaptations of an ethos that regards inversion and androgyny as coincidentia oppositorum, an ethos whose origin can be traced back to the tragicomic parades that Aristodemus Malakos in his devotion to Dionysus imposed on the boys and girls of the Cumaean aristocracy. To quote Plutarch about the rules laid down by the tyrant (Mul. Virt. 26.261f–262a), “It was the will of the god that adolescent boys should wear their hair long, adorned with gold jewels; and he forced the girls to cut their hair short and to wear boys’ garments and scanty petticoats.”

This also formed the backbone of the trumped up charges the Roman Senate made against the Bacchanals in 186 BCE, according to Livy’s account:

That the Bacchanalian rites have subsisted for some time past in every country in Italy, and are at present performed in many parts of this city also, I am sure you must have been informed, not only by report, but by the nightly noises and horrid yells that resound through the whole city; but still you are ignorant of the nature of that business. Part of you think it is some kind of worship of the gods; others, some excusable sport and amusement, and that, whatever it may be, it concerns but a few. As regards the number, if I tell you that they are many thousands, that you would be immediately terrified to excess is a necessary consequence; unless I further acquaint you who and what sort of persons they are. First, then, a great part of them are women, and this was the source of the evil; the rest are males, but nearly resembling women; actors and pathics in the vilest lewdness; night revelers, driven frantic by wine, noises of instruments, and clamors. The conspiracy, as yet, has no strength; but it has abundant means of acquiring strength, for they are becoming more numerous every day. Of what kind do you suppose are the meetings of these people? In the first place, held in the night, and in the next, composed promiscuously of men and women. If you knew at what ages the males are initiated, you would feel not only pity but also shame for them. Romans, can you think youths initiated, under such oaths as theirs, are fit to be made soldiers? That arms should be intrusted with wretches brought out of that temple of obscenity? Shall these, contaminated with their own foul debaucheries and those of others, be champions for the chastity of your wives and children? But the mischief were less, if they were only effeminated by their practices; of that the disgrace would chiefly affect themselves; if they refrained their hands from outrage, and their thoughts from fraud. But never was there in the state an evil of so great a magnitude, or one that extended to so many persons or so many acts of wickedness. Whatever deeds of villainy have, during late years, been committed through lust; whatever, through fraud; whatever, through violence; they have all, be assured, proceeded from that association alone. They have not yet perpetrated all the crimes for which they combined. […]

A low-born Greek went into Etruria first of all, but did not bring with him any of the numerous arts which that most accomplished of all nations has introduced amongst us for the cultivation of mind and body. He was a hedge-priest and wizard, not one of those who imbue men’s minds with error by professing to teach their superstitions openly for money, but a hierophant of secret nocturnal mysteries. At first these were divulged to only a few; then they began to spread amongst both men and women, and the attractions of wine and feasting increased the number of his followers. When they were heated with wine and the nightly commingling of men and women, those of tender age with their seniors, had extinguished all sense of modesty, debaucheries of every kind commenced; each had pleasures at hand to satisfy the lust he was most prone to. Nor was the mischief confined to the promiscuous intercourse of men and women; false witness, the forging of seals and testaments, and false informations, all proceeded from the same source, as also poisonings and murders of families where the bodies could not even be found for burial. Many crimes were committed by treachery; most by violence, which was kept secret, because the cries of those who were being violated or murdered could not be heard owing to the noise of drums and cymbals. (History of Rome 34:15-16; 39.8-12)

Ergo we can deduce that pink flamingos have a lot to do with Dionysos.