Crusader's 'Committed' is a monument to PETA power
By Craig Wilson, USA TODAY
Dan Mathews isn't just another pretty face, although he was a model in a previous life. Over the years, he has made a name for himself as the high-profile rabble-rouser for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, better known as PETA. He's out with a memoir, Committed, in which he recalls everything from a fish that changed his life to getting arrested to running with celebrities such as Paul McCartney and Pamela Anderson. He talks with USA TODAY about his life in and out of jail.
Q: Why did you decide to dress in a bunny costume for the book jacket of your memoir?
A: I really wanted to convey the spirit of the book. It's an adventure story. It's like 007 wearing freaky outfits. I wore the bunny outfit to take over the GM float at the Rose Bowl parade. I've dressed as a carrot, too, and had luncheon meat thrown at me. I've even dressed as a priest to crash a fashion show in Milan. I thought it was a fun photo. We modeled it after those astronaut shots, though I'm holding my bunny head, not a space helmet.
EXCERPT: Get a peek at Mathews' 'Committed'
Q: Your press material calls PETA "one of the most enduring, powerful and annoying pressure groups in the world." I suspect you like the world annoying.
A: When you're a pressure group and you want to be popular, you're bound to fail. But we're taking on corporations, and our currency is being annoying.
Q: How many times have you been arrested?
A: I stopped counting at 20. It's kind of like Rocky Horror. You forget how many times (you've seen it) after a while.
Q: What's the most memorable arrest?
A: In Hong Kong. We were arrested for taking our clothes off in public to protest this Asian fur convention. The police were very sweet; they brought us vegetarian meals. And we walked out wearing HKPD T-shirts. What tourist gets that?
Q: Where do you get the moxie to jump on Rose Parade floats and infiltrate corporate cafeterias to get your point across about animal cruelty?
A: I'd like to pretend I'm a brave soul, but the only reason I do it is the profound disgust I feel about what happens to these animals � how they're skinned alive and boiled. The only way to achieve victory is to confront the abusers. I've developed a thick skin and overcome my nerves. I feel quite emboldened after years of doing this.
Q: I understand Jennifer Lopez and Anna Wintour of Vogue are not fans. What's up with them?
A: Some people are very shallow. The most glamorous women won't have anything to do with fur. Fur is about as popular as a cold sore.
Q: How did you persuade the Rev. Al Sharpton to narrate aPETA anti-cruelty video?
A: I ran into him at an MTV party. I always thought he was a great speaker. We had just started targeting Kentucky Fried Chicken, and I knew they're huge with the black community. When I asked, he said yes. His video has turned away customers in droves. Martha Stewart joined up, too. We had targeted her for wearing fur, and we had an icy reception at parties. Finally, when she got sent to jail, I sent her a note and said, "We both know our way around jail cells now." She wrote back and had a change of heart and narrated our anti-fur video.
Q: Do you have any pets?
A: I don't. I travel too much. But almost all of the people I stay with have animals. People bring their animals to work here, too, so I'm surrounded by animals.
Q: Tell us about that first fish you caught.
A: Around the time I got beaten up for being gay, gasping for breath, surrounded by people looking down at me laughing, I caught a very big fish. When I pulled him on the boat, it was just an ugly flounder, and he was gasping for breath, too, and in that instance, the flounder was the only creature I could relate to. I had turned into the bully.
Q: So, you dress up as a bunny, a priest and a carrot, yet you don't know how to tie a tie?
A: I don't. I have some already tied in knots. I can dress up when need be, but --
Savvy PETA showman provokes with humor
By Sarah Peasley, Special to the Rocky Mountain News
Committed: A Rabble-Rouser's Memoir
Nonfiction. By Dan Mathews. Atria Books, $24.Grade: A
Book in a nutshell: Mathews has appeared in public nearly naked, dressed as a carrot and, in Denver once, in full bovine regalia at a meat trade meeting. But beneath the silly costumes or disguises he dons to infiltrate "the enemy," this savvy showman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) steals the spotlight and never loses sight of his goal: to educate and influence the public.
Mathews' memoir opens with his destitute childhood with an animal-loving single mom, a family "more Munsters than Waltons." This gay, fat kid who is pummeled by bullies turns vegetarian at 16, drops 40 pounds and becomes a rebel with a cause. He soon puts his 6-foot-5 frame, movie-star looks and natural tendency to clown to work for PETA, first making the cause hip by teaming up with rock stars, then targeting the fashion industry. After provoking a riot at a Paris KFC, he is admitted to a psychiatric ward and forced to prove his sanity - in French (thus the book's title).
Best tidbit: Mathews notes that as cable TV molded an audience "hungrier for entertainment than education," PETA was forced to switch from campaigns that appealed to the intellect to "flashier ways to vie for people's attention. Little by little we had to boil the brains out of many of our efforts. But by changing with the tabloid times and using provocative vaudevillian tactics, PETA soon earned a name for itself as one of the most enduring, annoying, and influential pressure groups in the world."
Pros: Mathews and his clever hi-jinx are the scourge of the meat and fur industries, but his sweet, campy memoir works because his concern for animals is sincere. In addition, Mathews' friendships with sympathetic fashion designers give an insightful look at how personal connections can further a cause.
Cons: Mathews doesn't defend PETA against accusations the organization puts emotion before facts, supports extremist groups, objectifies women with its "Lettuce Ladies" and "I'd Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur" campaign, or obstructs medical progress by opposing animal research.
Final word: Briskly paced, funny and self-deprecating, Committed is introspective and informative, without being preachy or too graphic.