Rolling Stone’s unveiling of the cover image for their August 1st issue featuring alleged Boston Marathon bomber, 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, has set off a firestorm of clamorous outrage . My facebook newsfeed features dozens of condemnations and calls to boycott, mostly from friends and family in my home state of Massachusetts, where the bombing took place. Some claim the cover image glamorizes the accused, an idea many media establishments have adopted, with USA Today referring to the image as “the Tsarnaev glam cover”. The title of Christopher Zara’s article for the International Business Times asks “Was The Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Glamour Shot Unethical Or Just In Poor Taste?” I, on the other hand, think Rolling Stone’s decision to put Tsarnaev on the cover was neither, and accomplished something valuable: it made Americans uncomfortable.
Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick have both stated they found the cover image in poor taste and several retailers have vowed not to stock the issue. According to CVS this decision was made “out of respect for the victims of the attack and their loved ones.” I don’t believe retailers refused to sell magazines featuring images of Osama Bin Laden on the cover in the wake of 9/11, so why should this case be any different?
The cause so many on social media and elsewhere are attributing to their outrage is that the image portrays Dzhokhar as a sort of heart-throb, partly because of the image itself and partly because the cover of Rolling Stone is usually graced by celebrities (there was no outrage when the very same photo of Tsarnaev appeared on the front page of the New York Times). “Music and terrorism don’t mix!” said Tedeschi’s food marts through a statement on its facebook page. Perhaps some of this outrage could have been allayed if the cover image had been released simultaneously with Janet Reitman’s in-depth piece on the alleged terrorist which the cover image is promoting, (a notion Mayor Menino alludes to in his letter to Rolling Stone’s editor).
In placing Tzanaev’s image in this space normally reserved for America’s most revered and beautiful people, Rolling Stone has confounded the notion that terrorists (alleged or otherwise) are bearded maniacs running around in faraway deserts. It is forcing people to stand fact to face with the alleged bomber and recognize that a terrorist can be anyone, even a 19-year-old American man who many find attractive.
High school senior Suzy Weiss has caused an uproar over her op-ed “To (All) the Colleges That Rejected Me” in the Wall Street Journal. In the article, Weiss laments that being yourself can only get you into college if you have “nine extracurriculars, six leadership positions, three varsity sports, killer SAT scores and two moms.” The first few criteria are obvious hyperbole to illustrate the seemingly impossible competition among the brightest young people to set themselves apart and impress admissions boards. But the last note about having two moms is indicative of a widely held misconception that people belonging to certain groups have a free ride in this country.
I’m currently working on designing postcards for the places I’ve visited using photos I took while there. First go: Ireland. I’d love to know what you think.