|ROCK AND A HARD PLACE: PHILADELPHIA'S LARRY PLATT.|
Larry Platt is a stud. The man's not only humanized some of the most rancorous and stand-offish athletes of our time, but he's also been in charge of humanizing a city with similar traits as editor of Philadelphia magazine.
Before he settled in to his cushy editorial position, Platt was known as a hard-nosed, tenacious writer who's penned stories for big-shit pubs like Playboy, Salon and The New York Times Magazine. Mr. Platt took some time away from lounging in his big editor's chair, eatin' a fockin' Wiz wit and banging his dong against the Liberty Bell to participate in this wretched, marginalizing media interview series known as Rock and a Hard Place. Man's got some moxie. They build 'em feisty in Philly.
BT: All right, so explain to me some sort of approach to Philadelphia when you took over. You're supposed to be a bulldog, a sword-rattler, all that stuff. Yet, the magazine seems more accessible and,
hence, more cuddly. Did anything surprise you about the job that you may have overlooked or underestimated coming into the position?
LP: My approach is very simple. The role of city magazine editor, particularly when said city hates itself, should be, in effect, to say to his readers, "Hey, this really is a more interesting place to live in than you think." And everything I do goes through that filter -- wanting to clue people in to the most interesting and coolest restaurants, stuff to buy, people, ideas, etc. Falling under that rubric would be everything from, say, our recent long story on a Philadelphian who was trying desperately to undergo sexual conversion therapy -- i.e., not be gay anymore -- to our some-would-say-offensive, I-would-say-funny send-up of an interview with a totally over-the-top racist and homophobic Smarty Jones. ("We call it hung like a black guy," he said.) The point of the interview was to convey a funny and interesting idea -- to comment on the absurdity of just how much Philadelphians had invested emotionally in this horse, like it could bring absolution. We were like, wouldn't it be funny if everyone who was going crazy for Smarty were suddenly confronted by a discomfiting reality; i.e., that Smarty saw the world like Archie Bunker. As expected, people went bonkers. We were like, it's a friggin' horse. Get over it.
BT: You've got a boner for sports and politics. And I guess a boner for sex, unless you've had one of those operations. But, why do you think you've identified and broken through with some of the more infamous players in both arenas, like Barkley and Iverson?
LP: I just think that, generally, pop culture anti-heroes are more interesting than those who play it safe when it comes to their public image. So I'm more interested in finding out about them -- and less interested in judging them, as the media tends to do. Jordan was boring compared to Barkley and Iverson. But he kissed media ass and got good press. The media judge guys like Barkley and Iverson, and I always tried to take a more open-minded approach of explaining, not judging. As for boners, I have no recollection of having had one.
BT: Do you think Philadelphia has overcome its alleged penis envy of New York? Have you ever had penis envy for New York?
LP: Philly will never be over its envy of New York. I remember when the Phils won the Series in 1980 and, at the end of the parade, in Veterans Stadium, Tug
McGraw, who had come to the Phils from the Mets, held up that day's Philadelphia Daily News. And the most uplifting thing he could think of to say was something like, "Take this, New York!" Even in our most celebratory moments, in other words, we're haunted by New York. I love New York -- livedthere in the '80s when going to grad school at NYU. But Philly suffers from being in the shadow of New York and Washington D.C. -- the cultural and political capitals, respectively. So our response is parochialism and anger directed inward, like the way we boo every great player out of town. (Dick Allen, Wilt Chamberlain, Mike Schmidt, Randall Cunningham, etc.)
BT: Have you seen New York magazine under Adam Moss? Do you think that thing gets more credit than it deserves? And do you even follow what other regional magazines do?
LP: I do check out what other regionals do, and Moss is kicking ass. He has taken over a magazine that felt like it had gotten complacent and seems to have followed the same simple formula we did here -- ask, "Who are the people making a difference?" And then going out and writing about them.
BT: Do you think it's a fair statement to call Philadelphia magazine a more suburban magazine than a city magazine? And do black people even read your magazine? Are black people even allowed to live in the suburbs yet?
LP: We have more suburbanites read the magazine, though the city is still the focal point for much of their lives. Fifteen percent of our readers are African-American, though of African-Americans who earn more than $75,000 per year, more read us than read the weekly black newspaper here. We've taken great pains to cover all of Philadelphia, including the black community. For the last year, we've been running a special series on race called "Tales of Two Cities" and sponsoring well-attended forums across the region. But even beyond that series, if you open a Philly Mag today, the images tend to be much more diverse than ever before.
BT: Whatever, dude. Without having that much of an editor's background -- I think you were quoted as being more of a writer's editor -- do you think that approach has been successful so far? And do you ever yell at anybody? Like, have you ever called a writer a "douche head" or "dead lady vagina breath"?
LP: I was never an editor. I never wanted to be an editor. I didn't like editors, because they fucked with my words. But I do think it helps to be a writer in this position. You can be more empathetic. No, I don't yell too much. We have a young writer here named Sasha Issenberg who is also kind of the magazine mascot. Since we're both Jewish, we've taken to calling each other, "My kike," as in, "You my kike" -- borrowing from the way African-Americans have appropriated the n-word and applied it to themselves as a term of affection. But Sasha really is a kike.
BT: All right, how about that Gov. McGreevey? Honestly, when was the first time you heard he pounded dudes? That seems like a story you'd break, for some reason.
LP: Why would you assume he's the pounder? Couldn't he be the poundee?
There were always rumors about McGreevey, but I never thought it was anybody's business -- until he (we now know) tried to put the guy on the state payroll. Even if they were just friends, that made it newsworthy, because it was about public malfeasance.
BT: Is malfeasance a fancy word for butt sex? Anyway, how long do you think it'll be before you get canned?
LP: I'm like a recovering addict, taking it one day at a time.