What’s so shocking about the Boston Bomber Rolling Stone cover?

I’m assuming a lot of people have been to the dentist recently. Otherwise, how would anyone know who or what is on the cover of Rolling Stone? Much like airport terminals keeping CNN in business, worthless left wing rags like Rolling Stone wouldn’t exist anymore if not for waiting rooms. Seriously, who actually subscribes to magazines nowadays? I don’t think I’ve ever said to myself, “Gee, I’d really love to pay money for a paper printout of the sort of information and commentary I read for free, online, 37 days ago.” This might be partly why I haven’t been quite as deliriously outraged as the general public by RS’s newest issue, featuring the Boston Bomber striking a glamour pose on the cover. I certainly do find it grotesque to give a child killer the Jim Morrison treatment, but I just can’t figure out why this is suddenly so upsetting to the masses.

Everyone seems to be dog piling on this poor innocent magazine. I mean, they’re merely prostituting their integrity for cheap publicity, why all the judgement, man? Celebrities, musicians, media, politicians, liberals, conservatives — all united in their condemnation. Several stores have vowed not to sell the newest issue, and millions have taken to the Internet pledging to boycott (which implies that they’re all frequent readers in the first place, which I find hard to imagine). This rare bit of unity is kind of refreshing, and I’m not looking to break up the group hug, I just want to call something to everyone’s attention: We live in a culture that usually finds evil to be glamorous and fascinating. I think that’s why the editors over at Rolling Stone are acting so surprised by this reaction. They’re probably thinking, “Wait, we’re the media, we glorify death and depravity every second of the day, why’s it suddenly such a problem?”

When you get past the emo Facebook profile pic on the front cover, the actual content of the “Jahar” write-up isn’t exactly complimentary. It details, accurately from what I understand, his plunge from popular pretty boy to mass killer. The headline even refers to him as a “monster.” Yet, the whole thing has an aura of “rock star” to it. Especially considering the publication in question, it feels like a Behind the Music special, or a tabloid biography of a drug addled former child sitcom star. Tsarnaev doesn’t deserve, nor does he warrant, that sort of pop culture close-up. He is just a cowardly failure who planted a bomb in a book bag to make himself feel powerful.

He gets the celebrity spotlight because he is a destroyer. And, in our society, those who destroy get the main stage, while those who help and heal are left out on the fringes. Turn on the TV. Go to a movie. Listen to a rap song. Virtually all you’ll encounter is nihilism and stylized evil. The Culture of Death, as Pope John Paul II called it, and rightly so. Is this Rolling Stone cover even anymore tasteless than cable news outlets coming up with their own graphics and theme music for each new sensational mass tragedy? Is it worse than a Tarantino flick where every single character is a debauched lunatic? Sure, that’s “fiction,” it’s “entertainment.” But why is it entertaining? Because we enjoy dark fantasies of an amoral world where there’s nothing cooler than being a murderous pervert. In fact, it’s no coincidence that this fantasy becomes more real every day.

We are enthralled by bad people. Face it. Humans, due to our fallen nature, have always found something mysterious and alluring about bad men, but in modern times we feed this disordered attraction on a minute-to-minute basis. This is unfortunate for many reasons, not the least of which being how tedious it really is. Evil isn’t that interesting. Bad guys don’t come in that many varieties. Their motivations are similar, their “fall from grace” generally follows a common path. Skim the biography of any serial killer or mob hit man (they all have them, which only serves to illustrate my point) and you’ll find they read like a depressing mad lib. It’s the same story. Alienated and desperate… finds a sense of power and authority in rape and murder… lots of people die… finally caught… arrest… trial… prison… Dateline interview, etc. It’s a tale of violence and diabolism, and it’s also pretty damn predictable. Evil is one dimensional. It has only one end and only one purpose. That’s the point, I think. Evil seeks to turn us in on ourselves and to drain us of everything that makes us unique and dynamic. This is what makes our fascination with it all the more troubling. Sure, there is a conversation we could have about what leads someone to succumb to dark temptations and embark on this path of murder and self-obliteration. That could be a complex and important discussion, but it would require us to talk about things like the dangers of post-modern relativism and neo-secularism, and the need for a spiritual foundation. We aren’t willing to go there, so the conversation is pointless.

Good people, on the other hand, are truly captivating. Heroes are fascinating. Pick up a book about Martin Luther King Jr or Mother Teresa, Medal of Honor recipients or medieval saints, Holocaust survivors or paraplegic mountain climbers, and you’ll find stories as dissimilar as they are inspiring. Goodness comes in infinite forms and it drives people to do compelling and uncommon things. Tales of courage aren’t just constructive and redemptive for all involved, they’re also much more entertaining than the redundant chronicle of another pathetic scumbag. If Rolling Stone wants to profile a young guy with a funky name who has been in the news recently, why not put Temar Boggs on the cover? He’s the 15-year-old who, along with a few friends, hopped on his bike and chased down a van to save a kidnapped child. After a 15 minute pursuit, the kidnapper panicked, pulled over and pushed the young girl out of the vehicle. She ran into Temar’s arms, and he carried her home to her mother. Now THAT’S a story. Amazing. Interesting. Riveting. I want to know more about this kid. I don’t, on the other hand, need to know any more about the effeminate punk who set a couple of crude bombs on a crowded street.

But that magazine story — the one about selflessness and innocence — wouldn’t sell like this one will, despite the boycotts. That’s not to let Rolling Stone off the hook, I’m just being realistic. We can lambaste the media for serving us glamorous filth, but then we need to figure out why we are normally so anxious to consume it.

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20 Responses to What’s so shocking about the Boston Bomber Rolling Stone cover?

  1. my first thought when I saw the cover was the Life magazine issue with a giant Charlie Manson face on it. I remember my parents being outraged. My daughter actually bought a copy at a local flea market a few years ago. But that was a different magazine, more newsy than entertainment, which is what we have come to expect from Rolling Stone, formerly a mainly music magazine. Their political / current events articles are well written, but to give this murderer a front page in a culture that a) is fascinated by evil, as you mentioned and b) has a following of young “fans” is a terrible thing to do. Not to mention, most of his victims are still alive with life altering injuries. Poor taste.

  2. Erica says:

    Rolling Stones itself is not a typical media outlet. It’s not CNN or any of the sort. It’s a magazine that was created to highlight the culture of music we have. It at no point should ever be used to glorify someone who created such destruction and contributed largely to loss of life and quality of life for some. Whether they intended to glorify him or not, they did. You’re reference to Jim Morrison is spot on. The second I saw the cover at a glance I honest to God thought it was Morrison himself and that they were doing a retro piece on a music icon. Writing the word “monster” in smaller print does not negate the fact that they have a terrorist posed like a rock star on the front cover of a very well known magazine. Whether people continue to buy the magazine or not the image itself is already widely spread across the internet and that alone has done enough damage, money in their pocket or not. Instead of following the lead of all of the other negative focused media, why not be leaders themselves and choose not to highlight someone so terrible? The inside article makes no difference once you’ve seen the cover. Rolling Stones needs to stick to what they’re good at…music. Tsarnaev has nothing to do with that culture and hopefully he will have no further place in our society at all.

  3. Alynn Baker says:

    “failure of his family” is what bothered me. We are to believe this guy was a victim of his family’s neglect in some way? Following that reasoning, shouldn’t they be delving into Zimmerman’s family past to see why he committed such a heinous crime (in their eyes)?

    • tim says:

      Actually, they should be delving into Trayvon Martin’s family to see why he decided to attack a stranger on the street

  4. bvincz says:

    It’s true about our culture, we are grotesquely fascinated with the bad guy. Media makes household names out of kids like James Holmes, Adam Lanza, and now Dzhokhar Tsarnaev because we let them. I didn’t hear about Temar Boggs; it’s not that I didn’t listen or I don’t care, it’s that the story wouldn’t last for any length of time in a news feed overflowing with troubles of the world. Every time I read the news, I have the same thought, “at least that’s not me, at least that’s not my town.” We are all part of the problem here. If nothing changes, nothing changes.

  5. Steve Berman says:

    Matt, obviously you’re not from Boston. There’s only one response to this for Bostonians and it’s “I’ll kick your a**” for making money on someone who caused so much pain and damage.

    • Cylar says:

      The mayor of Boston sent an angry letter about this to the publisher of RS. Did you have a chance to read it?

  6. I must be living under a rock because this is the first I’ve heard about it.

    You draw some very interesting (and true) concepts of our culture that, honestly, freak me out. But I guess that’s who we are now, huh?

    • Now? No. We’ve been captivated by destruction since the beginning of history lessons. Look at the deceit, pain, and destruction of the Greek myths, mirrored in Roman, and Norse myths as well. We’ve been captivated by violence in every generation, it’s just every generation provides new ways of killing each other. I’m not sure why people believe this is something new, its not our society that is enthralled with destruction, but our species.

  7. Reblogged this on Maria Wehmeyer and commented:
    Wonderfuly said by Matt Walsh.

  8. I honestly think if the picture was more of a mug shot, and less of the kind of image that you’d typically see on a rock and roll magazine cover, that we wouldn’t be having this debate.

  9. Meta S. Geyer says:

    I agree with you Peter Fitzpatrick. One thing it does illustrate is that you can’t tell what a person is thinking by their face. It doesn’t look like the face of a monster aiding his brother in destroying as many lives as they possibly could. By the same token, the sweet picture of Trayvon Martin that we’ve been pummeled with may not have shown what he was capable of. We can’t let a picture of someone or a first impression form our opinion. We need to use more information.

  10. optimisticgladness says:

    This article is worth putting in a magazine itself. You have such good points. And true, none-the-less. It is sad to be sitting in your living room, with your children present on a Wednesday night flipping T.V. channels to see “Criminal Minds” and the like. You’re right. I don’t want to see that garbage, Who wants to get inside a criminal’s mind?! It’s tortured and twisted. Let’s focus on the good stuff. Great post!

  11. Zambini says:

    It’s photo. That’s what photos looks like. How about you try reading the article accompanied to it to find out how the photo of him is there to sort of drive home “how did this handsome, seemingly normal young man turn into such a monster” But hey, why let a bit of thinking get in the way of your outrage, typical conservative.

    • Steve White says:

      It’s a photo, yes. That’s the problem.

      It’s a “Jim Morrison” style photo on the front page of a magazine. If someone reads the article they might find out that the writer describes Dhozer as a monster. Then again, the writer might end up glorifying a murderer.

      But the photo is what is up front, in our faces, sending the signal. It’s a glam-shot, and do ‘t think for a moment that the editors at Rolling Stone didn’t know what they were doing. It makes Dhozer look like a rock-star because that’s exactly what the editors intended. They had access to his mug-shot but that’s not the message they wanted to send.

      The medium is the message. Magazine covers look the way they do for a reason. Rolling Stone knew what it was doing, and why.

  12. chrisknits says:

    A pattern I have noted and which disturbs me is the reading assignments of my daughters’ English classes in high school. All of them have been dark and disturbing books about serial killings and depraved individuals. Now, I am sure the teachers get bored with the classics, but really, we have to go to filling our teens’ heads with details of the lives of psychopaths? My oldest was very upset with some of the books they were forced to read. Even the younger daughter has found it chilling. Her current book is on H. H. Holmes. His claim to fame? America’s first serial killer. He had a torture chamber in his home. Really? We want to pump the minds of our youth with this? As you say, glorifying the culture of death.

  13. Elizabeth says:

    Giving even a SMIDGEON of spotlight to this guy, or any “bad” guy/gal out there should be punishable by law. Yep, you heard it. Why? … Because that’s what motivates these kinds of vermin to do what they do. We’ve known that for a long long time. …

  14. Sean Mathis says:

    RS is one of the few publications left still doing hard-hitting journalism that often challenges the government’s (if not even more powerful organizations behind the scenes) quiet slide toward clandestine policies. As far as I know, Tsarnaev he hasn’t had a trial yet. The predisposition to assign guilt is negligent, given that plenty of confusion still surrounds the events of that day. (Why so many special forces folks around the bomb site just before? What about the strange way the stories in Ibragim Todashev’s death changed?)

    Even today I see inconsistencies with the “official telling” of the narrative. Dzokhar was admitted to the hospital with a throat wound, the source of which was changed later. In the picture released today, his throat looks fine as he emerges from the boat. Consider at least the idea that your emotional responses are being guided, if not downright manipulated, by larger media forces. Avoid the hysteria. Make up your own minds, even if they aren’t congruent with popular opinion.

  15. tim says:

    Who cases about RS, the picture or the fuss about the picture. RS wrote an article and put a picture on the cover to try to sell magazines, which is what their business is all about. You as an individual with a working brain, can decide whether you want to purchase the magazine or not. If you don’t like the way RS tries to make money, don’t buy their product. There are many other much more important issues to concern oneself with than a stupid magazine cover.

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