Okay I admit it. Last night was a wet dream for an art and entertainment enthusiast like me. Not only did I get to hang with Matthew Weiner, the ultra-hot creator of Mad Men, but Shepard Fairey, the legendary guerrilla artist and now embattled maker of the Obama "Hope" poster, agreed to come along too as we premiered the documentary film, The Good Men Project, about the state of manhood in America.
Killer, radical, awesome, lucky, just plain fucking cool.
All that and more is what I felt last night.
After the film, I introduced our director & producer, Matt Gannon, and then Shep and then Weiner to join me on stage for a panel discussion.
I couldn't help but ask Weiner, "What is the connection between Mad Men and Good Men?" and Shep, "When you see the guys in our film getting radically honest how does that relate to your liberation campaign entitled OBEY?"
The conversation roamed all over the place. It went from manhood to feminism to media to politics to, inevitably, Tiger Woods, an apparent good man gone wrong. Weiner drew applause when he talked about the absurdity of idolizing Woods and other professional athletes. Why, he wondered, do we demand that Wood's private life be perfect when we really admire him only for his golf game? Of our habit of clucking and criticizing people we put up on the pedestal, he noted with sarcasm, "We're so superior."
Fairey, wearing a hoodie over a Clash T-shirt, looked the part of the skateboarding subversive he once was. I found myself impressed both with the candor and intelligence with which he talked about his art and his life, addressing the pressure of his own perfectionism very directly. Of his recent challenges he said, "It's kind of like when you see a spot on a fence that needs touching up and then all of sudden you realize you have to repaint the whole thing." He talked about how having a daughter changed his own view of his manhood and, for the first time, made him realize that he had to put someone else's needs first.
In response to a question about Obama, Weiner pointed out that in fact he was a more likely role model than Tiger Woods anyhow. He reported that his 13 year-old son had asked whether the President had fixed the economy yet and, when Weiner said no he hadn't, his son said he felt sure he would. Weiner asked him why and his boy responded with all seriousness, "Because he's awesome!"
Fairey also spent time discussing his own attraction to celebrity, some of who were fascist dictators who happened to have very cool graphic designs, and his own ambiguous feelings about charismatic leaders even when they are wrong. "I mean even Rush Limbaugh has a shitload of listeners," he deadpanned.
Perhaps the funniest conversation was sparked by a female audience member who complained that her boyfriend would only fight with her by text message. Weiner began by talking about the fear men have of the opposite sex and ended by talking about his own unfortunate timing of being in college just during the outbreak of the AIDs epidemic in the late 1980s, which gave him a freshman-year excuse for not getting laid -- "It could be dangerous."
Both men discussed their roles as fathers (Weiner has four sons), sons (both of their dads are doctors), husbands (Shep's wife was in the audience and he spoke about her directly), and their respective work (Weiner said, "I was just born to be an entertainer" and Fairey quoted Martin Heidegger to explain the crazy success of his Andre the Giant sticker campaign).
As for me I just keep throwing them softballs and waiting for the two icons of American art and television to enlighten me and the audience on the meaning of manhood in 2009.
photos by Robert Durell