Cover and Behind It

Tons of fuss about the Rolling Stone’s cover. Rock star treatment? Are they thinking Dr Hook? I don’t agree with the corporate promotion of the culture of indulgence, but RS does a quantity of serious journalism. And people other than rock stars do make the cover.

The piece itself is worth reading. Fascinating on several levels.

It’s important to know the enemies of peace, and I mean more than what smarmy news anchors give us in the breaks between the selling of corporate product.

The profile of teens and young adults (including the friends of the Tsarnaev brothers) that show people in a labyrinth of achievement, slacking, sports, sex, drugs, parental divorce, alienation, and ignorance. And that’s even before we get to the issue of religion. Or ideology.

I am sure that there is a vanishingly small percentage of Americans who could identify Chechnya, Dagestan, and Kyrgyzstan on a map. There are probably enough people who couldn’t get a close-enough spelling to accurately google it. And we celebrate our ignorance in this country in any number of ways. Too many ways, perhaps.

Do you think the numbers higher or lower for the people who might read this story and others like it and put themselves and the rest of civilization on the path to preventing mass murder. Before it gets to the weapon-acquisition stage, even.

The publishers defend the cover:

Our hearts go out to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, and our thoughts are always with them and their families. The cover story we are publishing this week falls within the traditions of journalism and Rolling Stone’s long-standing commitment to serious and thoughtful coverage of the most important political and cultural issues of our day.

The fact that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is young, and in the same age group as many of our readers, makes it all the more important for us to examine the complexities of this issue and gain a more complete understanding of how a tragedy like this happens.

The cover seems less an advertisement for terrorism and more a mirror being held to the face of the culture of indulgence. They pretty much say so. But if that’s what the editors are trying to communicate, my sense is that the message may be too deep. It’s a message that needs to be told. And more people will see the cover, banned or not, than those who will read the story.

Would the image, top, of a debris-riddled and bloodstained street have been better? A real life version of what you probably never see in violent video games–the aftermath and rescue, I mean. People who responded and cared for the injured: we all agree these were the heroes. But the story wasn’t about the heroes or the survivors, was it? I suppose there’s always the rock star treatment of the brown paper bag.

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Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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8 Responses to Cover and Behind It

  1. Liam says:

    RS’s defense fails. The objections have to do with denying oxygen to the flames of celebritized ill-fame. People are increasingly observing how the celebritization of ill-fame incentivizes it. Those objections have more merit than RS’s defense.

  2. Todd says:

    You live near there, Liam. I’m inclined to embrace your take, and on further reflection this morning, even more so. A blank cover would have been another interesting mirror on the culture. That said, now that the cover’s out, and RS is unrepentant, is it enough to register a strong complaint, then read it anyway? Or employ what seems to be the knee-jerk reaction favored in many lesser circumstances: the boycott?

    • Liam says:

      Around here, the boycott is widespread. The Irish invented it, after all….
      I was more than happy to listen to RS on NPR explain its reasoning and motives. In the end, I did not find them persuasive.
      And I will not want to provide any more fuel in this instance by clicking or reading.
      Mind you, I am a pretty hard rejecter of America’s celebrity-and-crime reportage addiction culture, which promotes an insidious and false perspective on reality. Other than occasional, more professional, coverage of artists whose work admire, I hate celebrity infotainment; I also studiously avoid following crime stories.

  3. John McGrath says:

    People are reacting negatively to the cover picture because it reinforces something disturbing that they have experienced. The Boston Bomber has gathered up a teen fan club that insists someone so good looking could not do what he is accused of doing. Of course there are also the conspiracy theorists who insist this was done by federal law enforcement agencies, but the conspiracy theories are to be expected and the picture really isn’t relevant to them. The really disturbing thing for many people is how some teenage girls have fallen in love with this guy, that is, with their fantasy “bad boy.”

    Everyone agrees the article is worth reading. I am looking forward to it having once lived on the street (but not the block) he and his family lived on and once having worked with delinquent or disaffected teenagers in that city, from that neighborhood and the high school. The presence of two bastions of “making it in America” – Harvard and MIT – reinforces their bitterness that their parents were “losers” and that they will most likely be “losers” as well.

    • Liam says:

      +1 to the first paragraph; this is part of the celebritization of ill-fame.

      And Cambridge is a wonderfully weird place. Not only does it have the World’s Greatest University(TM), but less than 2 miles east is the World’s Really Greatest University (and a Morrill Act land-grant university, no less!). Offhand, I can’t think of any place in the western world that has such powerhouses of such size so proximate to each other, each with such a different culture. (I went to a professional school at one, but have more admiration for the institutional culture of the other).

  4. Anne says:

    I was only two blocks away with my family. We were about to go our seperate ways after a great day at the marathon. We were close enough that we saw, felt and smelled the blast. I will never forget the sounds and sights as everyone began to run away and police were running to the scene. Of course we were among the fortunate ones who were not injured. Yet, i still think about how frightening it was that day, as well as the following few days while the police and FBI searched for him and his brother (who was killed ) and apprehended the younger Tzarnaev. So I DO OBJECT to turning this guy into a celebrity on the cover of a popular magazine. It’s an insult to those who died, to their families, the injured and responders.

  5. This has been a sobering post and thread, and I am grateful for it. I was not able to connect to the outrage in the same way. After reading what Liam and Anne have written, I am stepping back and considering some of the feelings that I had in NYC, in the days following 9/11. Thank you for the perspective; there is, as always, so much more to consider. I am sorry.

  6. LIam says:

    More discussion among Boston media talking heads reveals that RS knew exactly what it was doing when it used this cover: they deliberately chose to glamorize the image of someone who would be considered alt-dreamy (and in fact has been, given the perp’s fan grops). Note that RS has not treated other perps in the post-Columbine era with this fashion – because they didn’t have the right look for it. The initial reaction of the senior editor via Twitter betrays this was an intentionally crass move. And knowledgeable commentators have discounted the reportage that this piece was a valuable piece of journalism, instead noting it’s more of a culture style piece (and, indeed, it’s in the zine’s culture section) but without dealing substantive even in that regard.

    All the way around, a failing grade to RS. Hit the gong.

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