The Advocate hasn't blipped on my super-stealth magazine sonar/radar since last year's Marcia Cross is-she-or-is-she-ain't? hubbub. I remember thinking that the mag had played its hand rather transparently and without much class, amplifying the question of the actress' sexuality into the type of mass-media boondoggle (she's gay! no, she's not! maybe she is - gosh darn, you better buy three copies!) that it purported to find distasteful. By the time the issue finally hit the street, branded with the precious and misleading "Anatomy of a Rumor" headline, The Advocate had succeeded only in aping the tabloid mentality of lower-aiming celebrity sheets.
So with the September 13 issue heralding on its cover Portia de Rossi's "first gay press interview," I decided to give The Advocate another look. I was curious whether the publication had learned anything from the Marcia-Marcia-Marcia episode, and apparently it has: The de Rossi interview is notable primarily for its matter-of-fact, heartfelt tenor. Interviewer Michele Kort deserves props for staying in the background and giving the actress plenty of room to expound on a number of personal topics. See, that's not so hard, is it?
Little else in the issue, however, lives up to the standard set by the cover feature. I'd always wondered why The Advocate never really gained much traction among its target audience, and now I know why: Its writing and coverage lacks punch and personality.
The larger features lull the reader with bland exposition, rather than the illustrations and nuance that illuminate a particular subject or profilee. Even quipster extraordinaire Bruce Vilanch goes soft in his column on gay-themed TV network Logo. He likens its lack of punch to Lifetime, before seemingly losing his train of thought and defensively noting that every cable channel has lots of airtime to fill.
The September 13 issue's entertainment coverage comes across as similarly lifeless. Pieces on Sundance Channel's upcoming documentary series on transgender college students and French actor Edouard Colin read as if they were lifted nearly verbatim from press materials, while a brief visit with legendary playwright Terrence McNally elicits few details more telling than that he feels "alive" during rehearsal. Even worse are the eight or so pages of two-sentence arts and entertainment previews. That's an acceptable space-filling gimmick in freebie publications stacked at the bus depot, but borderline embarrassing in an ostensibly vibrant consumer title like The Advocate.
I figured that the article tagged with the cover line "Is Judge John Roberts Pro-Gay?" would offer food for thought, and it does... but for the wrong reason. Sarah Wildman's piece neatly encapsulates the pro/con evidence and collects a few terse quotes, yet it is appended with the credibility-kiss-of-death annotation "The Associated Press contributed to this article." Maybe The Advocate merely padded the story with a few statistics compiled elsewhere or maybe it just wants to be 100 percent transparent with its sourcing (a noble goal). Either way, I read the disclaimer and wondered, "Is it too much to ask that a well-funded national magazine would do its own reporting?"
The September issue has more than its share of diverting moments, especially in the few pages devoted to gay and lesbian youth and the punchy "Advocate Report" news summaries. In the end, though, I couldn't get past its bland personality. Publications as diverse in tone and subject as Family Handyman, Road & Track, and Bon Appetit have carved out distinctive editorial voices; there's no reason why The Advocate shouldn't be able to do the same.