BB Exclusive: John Waters on the Origins of Teabagging.

There's been a lot of talk of "teabagging" lately. Conservative anti-tax advocates in the United States have been organizing "tea party" protests, fashioned after the colonial-era protests of British rule. In doing so, they and the right-wing TV punditards who cheer these spectacles on for ratings have ranted about "teabagging," and the desire to "teabag Barack Obama" and such, without apparent knowledge of the word's more common street use.

More recently, news anchors and bloggers have giggled knowingly over that sexual reference, but nobody has acknowledged how the word first entered popular American slang.

I'll tell you how. John Waters.

Here is the email exchange:

XENI: Dear Mister John Waters: We at Boing Boing are devoted fans of your work, and we consider you one of the greatest heroes of the "happy mutant" culture we celebrate. Where does the term "teabagging" come from? Is it true that the term was first popularized, or originated, in one of your films? Also, what is the deal with right wing nutbags (if you'll pardon that term, too) appropriating a perfectly good term for a sex act in such an offensive manner? Your humble devotée, -- Xeni.

JOHN WATERS: "Teabagging" is by my definition the act of dragging your testicles across your partner's forehead. In the UK it is dipping your testicles in your partner's mouth. I didn't invent the term or the act but DID introduce it to film in my movie "Pecker." "Teabagging" was a popular dance step that male go-go boys did to their customers for tips at The Atlantis, a now defunct bar in Baltimore. Hope this helps. -- John Waters

* Yes, this is an actual transcription of an email exchange between Boing Boing and John Waters.

Below, the clip from his movie "Pecker" that started it all. (YouTube Link).

Mr. Waters' work in sculpture and photography is currently the subject of an exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery in Los Angeles: REAR PROJECTION. Snip from show description.

"Rear projection" is a movie term for the process whereby a foreground action is combined with a background scene filmed earlier to give the impression the actors are on location when they are, in fact, working inside a studio. In Waters' latest work, this artificial and outdated visual effect is embraced, attacked and taken to extremes.

Glorifying the struggle, humiliation, and wild excitement of a life in show business, Waters uses an insider's bag of film tricks and trade lingo to celebrate the excess of the movie industry. Rewriting and redirecting existing film imagery snapped off the TV screen, he assaults, elevates, subtitles, and startlingly alters these one time classic, respected, even honored movies to attain a new kind of equality: a cult film that only needs one viewer - John Waters himself.

And finally: below, a rare John Waters short praising the merits of smoking in movie theaters.

(Special thanks to Mr. Johnny Knoxville and the incredible Richard Metzger, who you really ought to be following on Twitter instead of Ashton Kutcher or CNNBRK.)



  1. They used to show this short before the feature at the River Oaks in Houston. Thanks for finding it!

  2. The late, lamented UC Theater in Berkeley used to play the smoking clip before every movie.

    (Eight years later, still boarded up.)

  3. The Lagoon, in Minneapolis, also played the short. Dunno if it’s still played, but I’m happy to report that the theater is still in business.

  4. I’ve thought of John Waters every time I’ve recently heard news stories of Teabag Parties.

    Nice to see someone else make the connection. Does this mean I’m not crazy and/or perverted?

  5. ‘m sr tht y lfty flks lv th d tht th wngnts r ll vr ths gy/knky sx thng bt thnk yr schlyrd ggglng s msplcd. ‘m nt wr f ny f th T Prty prtstrs ctlly vr mntnng th wrds Tbggng r Tbggr. Why wld thy sng s th pnt f ths xrcs s t rcll smthng clld th Bstn T Prty. Y prbbly mssd lrnng bt ths n hstry bcs y wr bsy ggglng bt sm thr drty wrd y’d jst lrnd frm yr bg brthr.

    n thr wrds ths s md p stry tht shws hw jvnl prgrssvs nd th mny mnstrm md tlts r.

  6. Boing Boing readers of the world:

    Why not “teabag” FOX News itself by sending them THOUSANDS of emails of this post? The idea of this clip being widely circulated makes me laugh my ass off. The idea of idiot fratboy Sean Hannity having to look at an inbox full of it makes me laugh even harder.

    Not to mention, the Pope of Trash finally gets teabagging credit where teabagging credit is due!

    Can someone please post the email addresses of FOX News peeps here? At least one of you reading this has them. Do the right thing and post them!

  7. I’m sure I heard the term tea bagging way before Pecker came out in ’98. And while it may have been used in baltimore go-go clubs, I think it was part of the mainstream teenager lexicon in the late 80s and early 90s. I grew around Philadelphia, so maybe it’s a regional thing (south mid-atlantic?). How this term’s true meaning escaped Washington is beyond me, although since politicians are all secretly depraved, maybe they’re just pretending not to know.

  8. #5:

    Normally I’d agree and say this is juvenile and beside the point but it is totally legitimized by John Waters participation. Normal people giggling about teabagging: Juvenile, unnecessary. John Waters giving us a formal definition of teabagging: pure journalistic gold.

  9. @#5 right in the original post: “have been organizing “tea party” protests, fashioned after the colonial-era protests of British rule”

    so uh, what?

    also the international sign for teabagging looks a lot like ‘its got big fangs’ – but higher on the mouth.


    and my captcha is ‘among haight’ BONUS & on so many levels.

  10. @#5 Really, ‘DINGUS? Juvenile? Ah huhhh…

    Well, have ya seen some of the stuff on FOX? Unrelated to this whole Tea Party nonsense. Pot & kettle.

    The truth is, the wingnuts behind it, and FOX, deserve the ridicule. Really they deserve the stocks, and I don’t mean financial instruments, but we’ll have to be satisfied with the ridicule and mockery.

    So, show your patriotism, throw a rotten orange at a republican.

  11. Is it just me or does Fox News’ promotion of these events fall outside the normal sphere of “news reporting”? I have filled out a complaint form at the FCC website about this. I think it would be really good if BoingBoing could post some links for people to do the same. Maybe look in to the possibility that Fox is doing something illegal and not just small minded, irritating and stupid?

  12. I think “DirtyDignus” (who reminds us all that immature humor is bad) is actually right in this case regarding the origin of the term Although did call for people to “teabag washington, and Fox news reporter Griff Jenkins did use the term repeatedly- I don’t think anyone who didnt get the joke has used the term.

    It may be a weakness of the left that they just aren’t really dour. Given the choice between making fun of “teabagging”, or pointing out that it is your representation that is taxing you (so this has no connection to the boston tea party), and that most of the country got a tax break (and those who didnt are still better off than under reagan), that it was actually McCain who lead the charge on the TARP, and that a recession is the only time that government spending makes sense… Well, going with the first option is more fun.

  13. To DirtyDingus and anyone else who wants to blame the “juvenile progressives” for calling it tea-bagging: (@ 1:58)

    Clearly, it’s just something the liberals have made up….

    Hahahaa…. I know the wingnuts are big into historical revisionism…. but when you’re trying to whitewash something that happened 3 weeks ago, it’s not that hard for those of us who’ve been paying attention to call you out.

  14. I believe most of you are confused as to the purpose of the Tea Parties. It’s not to blame Democrats or Republicans, it’s about saying that the federal government can’t continue spending itself in to deeper and deeper debt. California is a preview of what’s to come if the federal government continues to spend like this. And responding with “Well, Bush spent…” isn’t a very good response. First, it sounds like a married couple who are in debt one upping each other with spending sprees and blaming it on the other’s previous purchase. Second most of those attending Tea Parties didn’t care for Bush either.

    I just have to laugh at Obama’s high speed rail proposal. It reminds of a family completely in debt, late on bills, getting yet another credit card and maxing it on an expensive camcorder.

    The Tea Parties are about telling both parties and all sectors of the government, enough is enough!

  15. Thank you for giving John credit! It’s been really disappointing to see his contributions to political discourse going unnoticed . . .

  16. @21
    Normally I am all against government spending, but in a recession where business isn’t spending (or employing), and the citizens aren’t spending (because they are terrified of losing their jobs)- this is basically the one time the government SHOULD be spending. I don’t disagree that the situation sucks, and that by spending we are creating more problems- there just seems to be a certain blindness to the seriousness of the situation when people protest spending right now. Not spending right now is only going to cause the whole economy to seize up and fail.

    Whether or not we are spending the correct way is a whole ‘nother debate (Imagine if we spent 700 billion on an oil-free energy infrastructure instead of propping up failed banks). The tea parties seem to be a protest of just… everything, if you look at the signage. The fact that it is a “tea party” seems to indicate that the major theme should be indignation at the restructuring of taxes… But you seem to be saying it’s about spending (so the whole tea metaphor breaks down completely). I don’t think ANYONE can authoritatively state what is being protested, except that people are unhappy and- duh, we’re in a massive recession, life sucks right now.

  17. The Right is talking about tea because of a direct connection to a real event in US history.

    I think the connection is weak – we have representation and taxation – but it is a real connection.

    It is delightful and ironic and fun for the left to notice that the gerund form of ‘tea bag’ is a sex act, but it is also deeply juvenile and not conductive to civil discourse.

    It is amusing, but deeply weak that the whole of the left’s reaction to the Tea Bag parties is that there is an alternate sexual use of the phrase.

    And with respect, I am disgusted that dirtydingus was disemvoweled. He is right. It is juvenile to call your opponents ‘tea baggers.’ And it is lame to dsemvowel.

    1. Rich Gibson,

      Dirtydingus was disemvowelled for being rude, not for his political opinion. If you any more questions, feel free to take them to the moderation thread.

  18. @21 At some point you have to finish reading your history and economics 101 textbooks, and understand how government spending affects liquidity in a credit crisis… it’s really not that complicated. There’s only still a debate amongst uber-partisan hacks.

    And there’s a big difference between the family in debt “buying a new camcorder” and that same family buying an economy car or paying for someone to finish their college degree – even if means extending credit a little further for a short while…

    If you’re not smart enough to understand the difference between spending on frivolous consumer items and investing in something that will pay off long-term, you have no place trying to make economic arguments anywhere, even on boingboing….

  19. @21– The tea party protests that take place every year are certainly protests of government spending and taxes by libertarians, but the ones that went on this year? Not so much.

    When the GOP’s website invites you to “Tea Bag Obama” by sending an ecard and the issues of the people at the rally range from Obama’s birth certificate to abortion, the event has been thoroughly co-opted. And those involved have lost the right to not be called “teabaggers”.

  20. That’s hilarious.. I actually think that the first time I heard the phrase “teabagging” used it was John Waters who used it. He was in Columbus at a screening of Hairspray (his version of course)years ago and was describing some of the more interesting things he had recently heard of. It is a small, small world when John Waters can explain teabagging to me.. twice.

    -Pope Impious XXIII

  21. #25 what else would teh left do with a astroturf protest manufactured by FOX News and some right wing think tanks, and attended by a few thousand ill-informed reactionaries across the country?

    I’d say ‘teabaggers’ is le mot just

  22. I’ll tell you how the word (and act) of ‘teabagging’ started: First-person shooter games.

    In old player-vs-player shootouts, there weren’t a lot of ways to taunt the opposing player and make him feel inferior to you. Today there are taunt animations and voice chat that can be heard by the other team, but in the old days you had a very limited selection of ways to humiliate your opponents. The only things you could do, generally, was shoot, jump, and duck.

    So the players evolved a humiliating ritual. After you shot someone and they were lying on the floor, face up and mouth open, you walked over their corpse and ‘ducked’. This made you squat on their face. It became known as ‘teabagging’, partially because players would squat many times in a row, as if dipping their balls repeatedly in their vanquished enemy’s mouth.

    I first heard of ‘teabagging’ in Counterstrike, circa 2000, but I’m sure it was invented before that. How it went from being a gamer humiliation to a real world perversion is beyond me.

  23. 1) In the USA, centrists are called, ‘the left’, and there is no left in fact.

    2) The whole ‘tea party’ thing was orquestrated by lobbbyists for the corporate elite, and most of the protesters actually got a tax break from Obama.

    3) However, Obama’s no rebel. His borrow and spend policies are not significantly different from those of all presidents since Saint Ronnie.

  24. They still play the John Waters smoking PSA before the Rocky Horror Picture Show (a European film) at Chandler Cinemas in Arizona. They also play a Britney Spears Pepsi commercial, and shadow-cast it.

    And my main problem with the teabag protest is that it’s about fifty years too late. Moreover, any coherent message it may have had is tainted by Fox News’ involvement — any coherent message it may have had is, by and large, replaced by the message “Republicans are whining that they’re not in charge anymore.”

  25. The Tea Parties are about telling both parties and all sectors of the government, enough is enough!

    No they aren’t. They’re a tantrum thrown by a bunch of cry babies because their team lost the election. The same idiots attending Tea Parties had no problem with out of control spending over the last 8 years when it was being done to drop bombs on poor brown people half a world away. It pisses them off that now the government is spending money to fix problems the GOP created and that this spending might help poor brown people at home.

  26. For the full historical effect, you really should dress like a native American whilst performing this.

  27. Teabagging aside, I went to the opening night of John Waters’ Art Exhibit a few days ago. I did get to see the man in person but couldn’t get through the crowd to talk to him before he left the room. Very Very interesting artwork though, what I would of expected from Mr. Waters. Really enjoyed this one sculpture of a giant roach trap.

  28. Some folks couldn’t find the moderation thread if it were google-mapped.

    Hey Rich: For the “least wonderful part of boing boing” look no further than your mirror.

  29. #24 – Spending in general would stop a recession but the only method the government has to get it’s money is by taking from it’s citizens and there’s not an infinite supply of it. Further reading:

    #26 – Do you really think a high speed rail will earn it’s money back? Amtrak operated at a loss of $1.0 billion (bottom of page 3 @ despite being subsized by the government. Further reading:

    #33 – That maybe what you think, however as a Tea Party attendee I can tell what I and several others were protesting exactly what I stated before. Furthermore I found out about the Tea Party by the Campaign for Liberty. It’s a organization started by Ron Paul that is more libertarian then Republican. Further reading:

    Thank for you for polite and well written responses. I understand other people have a fundamental difference of opinion in how the government should be, however I think the Founding Fathers would be shocked and dismayed to see the size and power of the federal government as it exists today. Remember the income tax as we know it wasn’t established until 1913. We existed for most of our time without one. Wouldn’t it be nice to go back?

  30. Why don’t we tax the oil companies profits more? The US is the third largest oil producer of the world, yet it’s citizens see no benefit of that. We just continue to get raped at the gas pump while the Oil companies are wildly profitable even though the economy is in the shitter and most other businesses are failing. That, combined with the fact that a huge part of our infrastructure, the roads, highways and bridges of this country, make it possible for the there to even be an automobile and fuel industry points to the fact that we need to tax that profit and give back to America what the Oil companies have been stealing.

  31. Remus Shepherd @30- Reading comprehension fail, dude. The movie Pecker came out in 1998, and the term was around before that, just not as widely spread.

  32. @41
    Couple comments on your article:
    1) I have to admit, phrases like “President Barack Obama insists that the massive $800 billion stimulus package ” invoke extreme eyerolling. My post will get too long if I really go into that- short version: like it or hate it, all our representatives are responsible for the TARP.
    2) This theme of trying to make the TARP seem partisan is a repeated theme, making this look like propaganda covered with a thin layer of political commentary
    3) ok- I’m just going to go up a level. Your article says “spending does not create value”. 100% right on. The reason government spending is good in a credit crisis is because the government counters the emotional shock of the country and forces the economy to keep moving. And YES- they do that by taking value from the paralyzed corporations and the citizens, and handing it back to them through a series of government programs.

    That article uses a straw man- the fictional notion that government spending is supposed to fix the larger problems of bad debt- and attacks that. In reality, no matter what, we have less actual assets in our economy than we previously thought. The only way to fix that is to fix our books, and work our way out. The reason you look to government spending in these times is because when a recession starts, consumers and corporations can both stop circulating money, which creates more fear, and you get a feedback loop. It gets irrational, and you suddenly have an economic collapse- not because of bad debt, but because people have stopped doing ANY business. A stagnant economy begins to collapse.
    It’s a lot easier to work your way out of an economic crisis when people still have jobs to go to, even if those jobs involve earning a radically reduced dollar. And yes- the only real long term solution is to create surplus value.

  33. To add a marker on the timeline:

    Circa 1988, my best friend was the captain of the football team in high school. No, I never played, and yes, we were an odd pair. Be that as it may, everyone on the team knew that it was the funniest thing in the world to teabag the guy you had just tackled.

  34. Ummmmm I am one of your readers… Not conservative nor republican.. Yet I went to the protest… Why does everyone lump the Tea Party protest in the right wing republican basket? It was a fair mix in Houston…. More right wing republicans than any others but for sure they were not the only ones there..

    1. @Anonymous who went to the protest — it’s cool to hear from someone who was there. Perhaps I characterized the event unfairly, and should have indicated that libertarians and others make up part of the fabric here, too.

  35. #41 Sure. I’d love to go back to WWI and make sure that no armistice happened.

    I’d love to go back to the Crash of ’29 and see what happened without the US Government spending income taxes on social programs to keep people from starving.

    I’d love to go back to WWII and see how the world coped with Japan owning the Pacific and Hitler owning Europe, since the US wouldn’t have been able to afford the war without income taxes.

    I’d love to see the 1950s, but I suspect that Hitler would have nuked Russia by then and the rest of us would be trying to decide whether to speak German or be herded into Nipponese relocation camps.

  36. I’m just about absolutely sure that the first time that someone realized that a mans scrotum looked kinda like one of those new fangled teabags was likely minutes after those first cups of tea were drank.

    i mean, tea drinkers can see the future in the bottom of their cups, seeing gonads in a shriveled brown sack would have been a piece of cake.

    i guess what i’m getting at is this – john waters needs his own news program.

  37. Did John Waters also pioneer or popularise the concept of wolfbagging? (For those unfamiliar with it, an explanation would require a unicorn chaser.)

  38. All those who think smoking bans are stupid: If smoking was permitted in theatres people like me (respiratory problems) wouldn’t be able to see movies.

    Before smoking in bars was banned here I couldn’t go to them; I never saw live bands play in clubs before 2004 as I couldn’t go to any of the venues they played in due to the smoke.

    There should be no ‘right to smoke’ that trumps others right to work, or walk around a city, or see a film or a play or a band or generally leave their house and interact with society.

  39. John Waters is Baltimore’s golden child of excess, and we should all give him the credit he is due. Perhaps a more equitable solution would be a smoking and non-smoking sections of the theater, just like we used to have before the respiratory police crawled up our collective bums.

  40. Maybe it’s just me, but the teabagged customer in that clip from ‘Pecker’ looks strangely like Karl Rove.

  41. how the hell does anyone understand what dirty dingus is saying?! However, based on other people’s responses, i think i was able to figure it out, and in response to giggling about teabagging… yes, it is horribly immature and juvinile and crass… and hearing them say it on fox news was STILL high comedy.

  42. Iheard the term “Teabagging” originaly came from an act from hundreds of years ago where men would dip thier testicles into pots or bowls of hot water in the belief that the exposure of the testicles to the hot water would kill all the sperm in the testicles and thus, allow him and his parter (female) to avoid pregnancy

  43. I first heard tea-bagging used as a term for smacking a guy in the nuts, in context to a cruel game high-schoolers played. It made the local news years ago.
    Loving the John Waters.

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