Rolling Stone and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

July 18, 2013 § 1 Comment

Rolling Stone’s new issue is causing a tumult here in Boston.  The cover image is one of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the Boston bomber.  In the picture, he looks like a loveable kid, laid back, like your little brother.  Not a terrorist.  I suppose this was Rolling Stone‘s purpose.  The article, by Janet Reitman, is an excellent attempt to figure out what went so wrong with Tsarnaev, and how a laid-back, captain of the wrestling team, because a murderer and terrorist.  In other words, there is massive cognitive dissonance between the image and the article.

I find the image distasteful.  I find it alarming.  And I find it jarring.  I don’t like it.  Yesterday, CVS decided not to sell the image in its Boston-area outlets out of respect to the victims.  Other local merchants have agreed and are not selling this issue.  I re-tweeted the CVS one, thinking that this was the right decision.

Today, I’m not so sure.  In part, because I had a long argument with with @lostinhistory (Better known as Jason Warren, purveyor of a very fine blog) on Twitter last night and this morning.   This was NOT an argument about the article itself, which I think everyone in and around Boston should read.  It was entirely about the image.  Jason noted RS’s long history of provocative images with its mudracking journalism.

He cited the (in)famous Charles Manson cover of 15 June 1970.

But his larger point is that the article itself would hopefully spur greater discussion about what it was that made Tsarneav become a terrorist, and if the image helps further that goal, then that’s good.  I disagreed.  Vehemently.  I re-read the article today.  As I read, I found that the article remained as insightful as it was yesterday and that perhaps Warren had a point, the image is and may be provocative (and note how I have not reproduced it here), but the article should be required reading.  It is chilling at times, especially when Reitman is talking with Tsarnaev’s high school friends in Cambridge; they had no clue.  None.  And given Tsarnaev’s public image, I’m not surprised.  What’s so chilling is he managed to create this private life, very far removed from his public one of a happy stoner, and no one had any clue.

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