In my weaker moments, I find myself enormously jealous of Paris Hilton. Never mind the cash--I covet her ability to live her life without fear of consequence or reprisal. If she acts like a stooge in public, she wakes up the next morning and re-glosses her puss without a care in the world. If she finds herself in an, um, obscure personal art film shot seemingly in infrared, she lawyers up and gets cut in on the profits. I imagine that if she wrote a intermittently coherent column about magazines, she'd casually shrug off the glut of correspondence featuring characterizations like "halftard," then throw caution and undergarment alike to the wind at the next evening's gala opening.

So when I saw her dolled up like Dietrich on the cover of the June Out, I knew I'd be forced to renew my acquaintance with America's Heiress (fine, I'd have to contemplate her existence on the planet for the first time ever). It's a striking cover, with a single splash of color invading the monochrome murk. If only every entertainment mag would aspire to this level of artfulness.

That's what people miss about Out, I think. Yes, of course it's a "gay magazine," but it emphasizes entertainment and personality, rather than furrowed-brow'd diatribes about issues affecting the gay community. For all the cheeky banter about "Hot filmmaking boyfriends" and the "Gay Factor" of Christian Bale, the magazine remains at its core a meat-and-potatoes entertainment publication, albeit one with the bitchiest letters to the editor in the history of the genre. In the June issue, readers liken Madonna's April cover appearance to both "a praying mantis from space" and "the alien from 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind.'" Bruce Vilanch and Joan Rivers, the gauntlet has been flung.

It doesn't hurt that Out has the good sense to tap writers who can, you know, write a little. For the June issue, the mag sends Bob Moser back to a queer prom in his hometown of Winston-Salem, N.C. His thoughtful account delves deeper than the usual "I'm inspired by their inspiration" pap, actually taking more a few seconds to ponder the legacy left by his generation for the next. As such, it transcends the book-report-masquerading-as-memoir feel of similar stories in other lifestyle mags.

Just as sharp, but for entirely different reasons, is Bob Smith's single-page piece on a proposed Gaytown down the road from the Catholic-leaning Ave Maria village in Florida. In this gay mecca, the key to the city "will include a towel and a locker" and the streetlights "will have dimmer switches." Would-be Ave Maria residents might not enjoy this satiric morsel, but I can't imagine anybody else not getting the joke... well, anybody north of Washington, D.C., anyway.

The "Out Front" compilation of lifestyle/entertainment effluvia is a bit spottier. Its mini-profiles of entertainers and style mavens can only do so much with the 200 or so words allotted them; its feature on Vegas restaurants reads like a compilation of press releases. Plus, in a tease for a piece that traces the lineage of musicians popular in the gay community, the mag proposes with a straight face, "Without [Dead or Alive's] Pete Burns, there'd be no Marilyn Manson." Oh, so he's the guy to whom we should be addressing the thank-you notes?

The occasional double entendres get a little groan-worthy as well. The mag cites "rugged yet stylish good looks" as the must-have feature on a new Dell laptop (plucked right from the press release, clearly) and ends an otherwise straight-faced exercise primer with this doozie: "Say goodbye to cardio and active recovery, because you don't want to lose too much muscle; you want to stay big and hard." Indeed.

Separately, in my quest to give due consideration to every back-of-the-mag horoscope, here's what the stars and planets and nebulae and asteroids have in store for me this month: "By the full moon you're in tantrum mode, your tensions exploding in a slew of sexual excesses." So wait--this is going to be a good month or a bad one? I just want to know what to wear, is all.

From what I understand, Out recently inked a new editor in chief who plans on upping the magazine's quotient of serious reporting. Which can't hurt--occasional bursts of gravitas among the entertainment froth has served titles like Vanity Fair quite well. Either way, Out seems to be choogling along just fine as is. So long as the changes fall into the category of tweak rather than full-scale overhaul, Out won't surrender its place as one of the sharper knives in the drawer.

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