Recently, the cover of the latest issue of Rolling Stone was revealed, picturing a portrait shot of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, on trial for the Boston marathon bombings that left three dead and nearly 300 wounded. A wave of outrage has erupted against the magazine, with many major chains refusing to carry the issue. Indeed, one Massachusetts police photographer was so incensed that he took it upon himself to leak this photo in response:
In spite of reports that Sgt. Sean Murphy has been been “relieved of duty” since the leaking of this photo to Boston Magazine, national anger at Rolling Stone is widespread, many accusing the publication of “glorifying” Tsarnaev and elevating him to “rock star” status. Others have drawn parallels between the controversial cover and the magazine’s iconic picture of Jim Morrison.
Although Rolling Stone has defended itself against the criticisms leveled against it, pressure is growing on the publication, with boycotts spreading across the US. Normally, I’d be the first to jump at the call for boycott- normally. While I’m continuing (what feels like) my one-man-battle against Coke, Nestle, and Nike, this is just, well, dumb.
Let me explain why.
I. This Isn’t The First Time Rolling Stone Has Covered A Murderer
I want you to take a look at this Rolling Stone cover from 1970.
Now the text is a little small, but below “Charles Manson” it reads “The incredible story of the most dangerous man alive.” The picture of Manson (sans Swastika) includes a golden circle around his face (bear with me- I’ll explain the relevance in a sec). Other than some text in the bottom right corner, there’s nothing else on the cover.
Now take a look at the cover that’s causing all the outcry.
Beneath the large print words “The Bomber” is written “How a popular, promising student was failed by his family, fell into radical Islam and became a monster” (emphasis added). Unlike Manson, this photo has not been edited, and about a third of the picture is covered in text.
Now Manson directed his cult to kill nine individuals- three times as many as Tsarnaev. In spite of not being called a monster (as Tsarnaev is) and getting far more cover space, this is the issue people are railing against. Now you might say “Hey, I’m going to howl at any glorification of a killer!”
Well, that bring us to the second point.
II. This Isn’t The First Time A Magazine Has Covered A Murderer
You might remember the strange case of double leg amputee Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius, who was charged with the murder of his girlfriend earlier this year (the trial having been set to begin August 19th). Time Magazine ran this cover:
Now while Pistorius is, unlike Tsarnaev, not called a “monster” and enjoys more room on the cover, you could say “But Gordon- he hasn’t been convicted.” Well, neither has Tsarnaev, but I get your point. So take a look at the cover of another famous issue.
Again, I’m not seeing any accusation of OJ being a monster, but he does take up most of the space on this issue, so there’s only so much room. Not to beat a dead horse, but these covers are far more charitable than what Rolling Stone has put together- where’s the outrage against them? Where’s the boycott of Time?
And lest you think it’s just Time on the gallows here, let’s move on to point three.
III. Rolling Stone Didn’t Photoshop
Unlike this notorious issue of Newsweek.
Ok, that’s not shopped, but the unflattering image of former representative Bachman was specifically chosen to drive home a point. Jumping back to the Time cover of OJ Simpson, the actual photo is much lighter, Time having altered the image to make OJ appear more sinister.
While I’m no photographer, I’m going to go ahead and venture that Time is pulling the same trick with its Pistorius cover, using back lighting on the sweaty, shirtless athlete to darken the face- particularly the eyes. Again, Rolling Stone is simply offering an undoctored picture of Tsarneav; it’s Time and Newsweek who are propagandizing their covers.
You might say “Okay, so manipulating photos is a widespread problem- that shouldn’t negate blame on Rolling Stone.”And that would be right. The immorality of something isn’t diluted by its popularity. Problem with that argument is point four-
V. Rolling Stone Did Something Good
The cornerstone of the magazine’s defense of this cover has been the banality of evil. This is the face of a killer, and it doesn’t come to you as a leering, jackbooted fascist. It’s not some gangland thug. Not some hulking serial killer.
It’s just a kid.
The worst attack on American soil since 9/11 was conducted by someone you wouldn’t picture. Someone who doesn’t fit the stereotype of the creepy loner, redneck survivalist, or doomsday cultist.
And that is what you’re really angry about.
VI. This Is About You
The sin that Rolling Stone committed here was not that they showed a killer- that’s been done before. It’s not that they glorified him- their treatment of him has been far rougher than what they and other publications have given other murders.
No, the reason chains across America are refusing to carry this issue, the reason Rolling Stone is being buried under an avalanche of tirades is this:
Dzhokhar Tzarnaev didn’t have the courtesy to look like a monster.
Had the image of him been frightening- had he been buried in shadows like OJ and Pistorious, or wildly staring down the camera like Bachman- no one would have batted an eye. Instead, he’s horrifically normal, appallingly average. And now all that Disney fairy tale, Hollywood myth of “handsome-is-good” and “ugly-is-evil” tripe just got blown out the window.
How dare he? How dare he be a normal person?
How dare he be someone like you?
That’s what’s getting to you.