The heat wave must be turning into a stroke, because America seems to be losing its mind for no reason. People are frothing at the mouth because Dzhokhar Tsarnaez is on the cover of Rolling Stone.
If you lost a loved one, or if you were injured in the bombing it’s understandable that you’d never want to see Tsarnaez’s face again. I’m sure that people who were personally affected by 9/11 didn’t want to see Osama Bin Laden’s face everywhere; I’m sure that seeing pictures of the World Trade Center day after day much have been horrible.
If the shrill outrage was actually call to being sensitive to victims, then that would be an understandable and sensitive gesture, even if we can all agree that it wouldn’t make a lot of sense. First off, this picture of Tsarnaez’s face has already been everywhere—The New York Times, the Washington Post, all over posters, on the Internet. If we were going to be upset at putting his face out there, we should’ve been upset a long time ago. Plus, a lot of the outrage makes explicit that this is a Rolling Stone-specific complaint. This is really baffling.
A lot of complaints center around how a Rolling Stone cover means veneration. People feel like this cover is an affront because of what a Rolling Stone cover is supposed to mean.
What the hell is a Rolling Stone cover supposed to mean? As Motherboard editor Michael Byrne put it, “Most that I can think of say nothing at all except ‘buy me.’”
Judging from this cover, I’d say it means that there’s a piece about Tsarnaez inside the magazine. Looking at it, I’m actually struck at how much better it is than almost every other Rolling Stone cover—it perfectly reflects the article that it refers to and the cover photo reflects an actual article.
This picture does a really good job of illustrating the Janet Reitman’s story about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, which is about how Tsarnaez’s friends thought he was normal. The article is about how someone who one day is doing something as normal as taking self-flattering selfies in an Armani t-shirt “became a monster.” I don’t know if I’d call it brilliant, as Slate did, but there’s no denying that it’s descriptive and germane photo for the story.
Beyond aesthetics, what it’s doing is what a good magazine cover should do—it tells you what’s inside. Also, as an improvement for Rolling Stone, the picture plays up a well-researched piece of long-form journalism rather than someone’s tits.
You want to see a bad magazine cover? Check out this one with Lady Gaga. No one disputes that Lady Gaga deserves to be on the cover of Rolling Stone, and this issue features what looks to be an interview with her, where she tells all. But as a cover, Rolling Stone‘s editors have a lot more to answer for with this picture than they do with the Tsarnaez cover.
The most important part of this edition of the magazine has nothing to do with Lady Gaga’s machine gun bra, but is in fact the story in small print down by Lady Gaga’s knee. That’s the story that ended Stanley McCrystal’s career as head of NATO forces in Afghanistan.
I guess there’s an argument to be had there—Rolling Stone’s covers should always be tits and asses, even when the biggest feature story isn’t about someone’s tits. The word that describes that is “gratuitous,” and Internet outrage usually condemns it, even if Internet searches affirm it. Anyway, it doesn’t seem like a lot of people are saying, “Now what am I supposed to masturbate to?”
For this to be controversial Rolling Stone’s cover must mean something to people. It stands for veneration.
Which is weird because Rolling Stone covers haven’t meant anything other than “Buy me,” for my entire life. If this is a “statement” cover-photo, it’s a statement that Rolling Stone is going to start playing up its reporting, which almost everyone would agree we could use more of.
No—this is what I find more surprising than anything—people seem to actually care what’s on the cover of Rolling Stone. Being on the cover of Rolling Stone, even for the worst reason in the world, is better than life itself. I had no idea that anyone felt this way, because Rolling Stone covers are usually in between “ignorable” and “embarrassing.”
But even if I imagine a world where being on the cover of Rolling Stone makes you look cool–even if we warp our minds into thinking that that’s what’s happening here—I’m left asking: so what?
Ask yourself: So what if he’s on Rolling Stone looking cool? People are going to become convinced that terrorism is cool? The Boston jury will be so charmed by his bedroom eyes that they’ll let him go? He’ll get such a self-esteem boost that he’ll break out of prison and bomb us again?
Tsarnaez is either going to jail for the rest of his life or he’s being executed for what he’s done. People are accusing Rolling Stone of bestowing a privilege on someone undeserving, but—even if we accept that being on the cover of Rolling Stone means something—I’m sure Tsarnaez isn’t enjoying it.
Look, I live in Brooklyn, so you can go ahead and assume that everything I do is an attempt to look cool, and honestly, if I was facing the death penalty I wouldn’t care if Thurston Fucking Moore wrote the best song in the whole universe about how I’m a total inspiration for him.
The only world in which I can picture caring about this Rolling Stone cover from his position is if I was actually innocent and also confident that I would be completely exonerated by both law and public opinion. But the magazine article that tries to explore why Tsarnaez bombed the Boston marathon doesn’t really leave room for that possibility.
Unless you think Tsarnaez is innocent, you accept that he hates American society enough to plant bombs at the Boston marathon. Even keeping in mind how Bin Laden was vain enough to watch clips of himself, he did that when he was hanging around a compound with nothing better to do. Tsarnaez is recovering from a shootout with the police and on trial for domestic terrorism. He’s busy.
If you think he’s guilty enough to be denied the all-holy Rolling Stone cover, do you also believe that he did it due to a conversion to radical Islam? Are radical Islamists the last ones who care about the cover of Rolling Stone?
If he’s guilty does it really matter that young women are demonstrating for his freedom? Johar isn’t getting free to bang his way across America. He’s preparing to die. Plus you can’t pin that on this magazine cover, because they were already demonstrating, and to be honest being on the cover of Rolling Stone can usually only make you less cool.
I just don’t understand what’s this is all about. Is it the heat wave? Is it that the only sport going on right now is baseball and it was the All-Star break?
Or is the controversy itself a deliberate ruse? Is Rolling Stone doing this to bring attention to a piece of long-form journalism? Are the 9/11 truthers trying to keep people from reading an article that says that Tsarnaez thought it was an inside job? Is this a distraction perpetrated by the people at Alex Jones Infowars, because the piece mentions that the other bomber, Tsarnaez’s brother Tamerlan, read their site? Islam, along with questionable mental health, gets implicated in the piece. Is one of their all-powerful sets of hands pulling the Internet’s outrage strings?
I’m inclined to say that, no, that’s ridiculous. But in the absence of any other satisfactory explanation, one wonders. Does everyone just love outraging so much that they’ll invent a reason?
I just don’t know. Maybe my own outrage is just a product of the heat wave too. It’s been pretty hot for a pretty long time.