My Twitter feed today has been chock full of outrage. Not outrage about the Zimmerman verdict — Zimmerman verdict outrage is sooo three days ago. Today everyone’s outraged because Rolling Stone magazine, which is apparently still a thing, put (alleged) Boston Marathon bomber Dzokhar Tsarnaev on its cover.
How can Rolling Stone treat a terrorist like a rock star? Doesn’t this send an awful message to people, like all they have to do to get on the cover of Rolling Stone is plan and execute a bombing in a highly populated public place? Why did they have to use such a dreamy picture of the guy?
These are the kinds of questions people are asking about this cover. I have some pretty strong feelings about it myself, if total indifference can be described as a strong feeling.
First of all, this is not the first time anyone’s seen Dzokhar Tsarnaev’s face. It was plastered all over the place for weeks at the time of the bombing. Any of the many representatives of the Free Dzokhar community (which shares over 98% of its membership with the Daddy Issues community) that wants to moon over him does not need to go to a newsstand to do it.
Also, I think people may need to readjust their perception of Rolling Stone’s cultural reach, circa 2013. I certainly used to be a devoted reader, from the late ’80s to sometime in the mid-’90s, and I admit that I hung more that one Rolling Stone cover on my bedroom wall as a kid. But does anyone still read it? Moreover, does anyone still read it in print? I want to say that I haven’t picked up a Rolling Stone in ten years, but I just remembered that’s not quite true: I bought one at the airport right after Adam Yauch died. The tribute to Yauch was lovely, but I was struck by how wheezy and sweaty and desperate for relevance the rest of the magazine felt, like a 59-year-old man in skinny jeans talking about the new Kanye album.
Look at the rest of the cover. There’s Dzokhar, looking dreamy with his tousled curly hair, but check out the other stories: On the bus with Willie Nelson; Jay-Z’s ‘Magna Carta’ Stumble; Robin Thicke, Pretty Fly For a White Guy; Gary Clark Jr, Reluctant Guitar Hero.
So the supposed standard-bearer for youth culture and hip influence is trumpeting the inside scoop on an 80-year-old country singer, an aging billionaire’s 15th rap album, and in the tagline for the story on the top-selling artist of the moment references a song that peaked at #53 fifteen years ago. Pretty cutting-edge stuff.
A little light Googling reveals that Rolling Stone ranks 53rd among American magazines in terms of circulation, just below Self and just above Golf, selling an average of 1.4 million copies per issue. The United States population is 313 million. Rolling Stone does not have a ton of cultural reach anymore, is what I’m saying.
Here’s the thing, though: I don’t buy Rolling Stone anymore, but I do read it from time to time. Not for stories about Robin Thicke or Mumford & Sons, because quite frankly I’m 40 years old and long since out of touch with the music of the moment.
On the rare occasions that I read Rolling Stone, I read it for its news and political reporting, principally (but not only) by Matt Taibbi. Some of the best long-form journalism I’ve seen in the last several years has been in on Rolling Stone (dot com). It’s the tail that is increasingly wagging the entire dog at Rolling Stone.
If they have an indepth feature about how this smart, good-looking, popular kid somehow went off the rails and became an accomplice in a pointless act of domestic terrorism, that’s an article I would be interested in reading, and it’s clearly the most interesting thing Rolling Stone has this week, so why wouldn’t they promote it? And is there a better way to promote a story about Dzokhar Tsarnaev than with a photo of Dzokhar Tsarnaev? I’m sorry he’s got such a beautiful head of hair and such bewitching bedroom eyes, but that’s not something any of us has any control over. Should they have drawn a scary-looking artists’ rendering? Or maybe darkened his skin, like Time did to O.J.? It’s not like the photo is captioned “Win a date with Dzokhar,” or “Dzokhar talks about the girl that broke his heart.” It calls him a monster. Hardly an endorsement of his deeds.
It seems like some people are worried that putting him on the cover glamorizes what he did, or glamorizes him personally, so that people may be more sympathetic to him because they find him so irresistably attractive. I would argue that anyone who can be persuaded by a pretty face to condone or excuse or deny the maiming and shrapnelling of innocent people — of knowingly leaving a bomb right next to a small child — is someone whose problems run deeper than anything a magazine cover could either cause or solve.
Anyway, this doesn’t bother me at all. I don’t find it in good taste or bad taste — It achieves exactly the magazine’s intent, which is to make me aware of the article and want to read it. Maybe I’m made of stone, but the fact that the kid is handsome does not make me any likelier to join the jihad. (I might blow him, but only after making clear my loyalty to the U.S.)
I don’t presume to tell you how to feel about this cover, but if you really are bothered by it I’d suggest voting with your dollars and not buying it, not going to rollingstone.com, and most importantly not posting your outrage about it all over Twitter and Facebook. Because nobody pays attention to Rolling Stone anymore — indeed, nobody pays attention to anything anymore — unless everyone’s hollering in outrage. I never would have known about it without the outrage, so I guess I should thank you, outraged Internet, because I just read the first few hundred words of the piece and look forward to finishing it.