Oh, Rolling Stone, what have you done? The power of your influence cannot be underestimated in pop culture. People look to you for guidance on who's hot and who's not and to help identify who the next big thang in music or movies is or will be.
Yes, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, featured on the cover of the July 19, 2013 edition of Rolling Stone is famous, but for all of the wrong reasons. Tsarnaev is not an up-and-coming pop star nor is he a budding Hollywood actor. Tsarnaev's fame stems from being accused of committing an act of unthinkable horror upon an unsuspecting public.
And I couldn't agree more with your decision to put him on the cover.
Now before you start sending hate tweets my way, I want to say that I sympathize with those affected by the Boston Bombings. I cannot begin to fathom the trauma felt by those directly affected by the April 15, 2013 incident, nor can I diminish the impact upon the psyche of Boston. I, too, would be asking "How could this happen here?"
I also want to make clear that no portion of this article should imply, directly or indirectly, that I am sympathetic towards the causes that Tsarnaev felt his drastic, tragic actions supported.
I am a thinker, however, and that fact is what is driving this piece.
As I have watched the Rolling Stone cover controversy unfold over the last 24 hours, two distinctly different themes have emerged in the public's outcry.
The first item is the picture the magazine has used as their cover shot. It has been used by multiple other media outlets including the New York Times. The problem is, the photo was taken by Tsarnaev himself and posted by the accused to a social media site. Rolling Stone didn't hire a photographer to take his picture. Yet none of those outlets have taken the same flack that Rolling Stone has.
Could it be because those outraged by the cover photo came to the stark realization that Tsarnaev has the same rock star good looks that could have actually landed him on the cover of Rolling Stone had he not made the terrible decisions he did?
Could it be that a segment of parents outraged by the picture are silently thinking "That could have been my kid"?
Suddenly, terrorism has a real face. Suddenly, it hits home that terrorism isn't strictly reserved for men wearing turbans plotting to destroy a country half a world away from them. Tsarnaev has shown us that terrorism can be homegrown, as well.
The image of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev staring back at us from the cover of the Rolling Stone is terrifying precisely because he does not fall into the assumed definition of what a terrorist should look like or where they call home. Tsarnaev's face could be the face of anyone in America. It is a terrifying prospect that perhaps many do not want to confront at such a delicate time in history.
But why is he on the cover of a music magazine? After all, landing on the cover of Rolling Stone (as Dr. Hook aspired to do, all those years ago) is one of the ultimate signs of pop-cultural success. Many are saying that by featuring the alleged bomber on the cover of the magazine, they are somehow inadvertently glorifying terrorism or giving terrorists exactly what they want: an audience.
People are not taking this well. Nikki Sixx, David Draiman, Kelly Osbourne and more are united in saying that Tsarnaev has no place on the cover of a music magazine. And if Rolling Stone were only a music magazine, I'd be inclined to agree with them. Music might be what Rolling Stone is best known for covering, but it is not the only thing they cover by any stretch of the imagination.
The magazine has dedicated significant amounts of coverage to the financial crash of 2008 while also covering the war on drugs, General Stanley McChrystal and more. Hell, they even featured Charles Manson on one of their covers in 1970, an article which also featured an interview with the murderer.
Rolling Stone branching out to cover something aside from music is not a new thing.
Just yesterday, Rolling Stone released a statement about their choice to put Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover of their latest issue:
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.
Many of those incensed by the magazine's decision to feature Tsarnaev on the cover state that it is disrespectful to the victims who perished, were hurt or maimed by Tsarnaev's alleged actions. The healing process for all those directly impacted by the Boston Bombings is going to be an unimaginably long road. My heart goes out to all of them.
But before pointing your finger and accusing Rolling Stone of trying to profit off the Boston Bombing tragedy or alleging that their decision is cruel or heartless, let me ask you this:
Prior to Rolling Stone having released the cover featuring Tsarnaev, when was the last time that you thought about the bombing and those impacted? There is so much happening in the world around us. If you're at all connected to social media, the influx of information from dozens upon dozens of different news sources can be downright overwhelming.
But when your evening newscast inevitably moves onto covering other world tragedies such as the train derailment in Lac Megantic or the Trayvon Martin verdict, news pieces like the Boston Bombing, for better or worse, get pushed to the back of our minds.
If anything, Rolling Stone deserve our thanks for putting such a horrendous tragedy felt by those across America and beyond back into the limelight. Their willingness to re-open the wound should not be seen as a malicious move. It should be viewed as a desire to confront some of the skeletons in our collective closet because that's the only way we can ever get rid of them.