I’m just going to preface this by saying that – like many others – I’ve already expressed by disgust at the all-round dick move made by Rolling Stone.
Writing that first article (read: venting) was therapeutic. I got most of the anger out of my system and let it out into the world. But that was about 13 hours ago and I’ve had some time to calm down, process, and think about Rolling Stone’s decision to feature Dzhokhar Tsarnev on the cover. And I hate to say this, but it’s actually a brilliant move. That’s not to say I agree with it, but I think we need to look at a few more issues at play.
First, it’s a story that needs to be told.
I’m not going to use the kind of language they did – that he “fell into” radical Islam and that “his family failed him” – because after a certain point we all accept responsibility, and bombing the Boston Marathon was no passive act of a young man irresponsible of his actions.
Still. We need to investigate why someone with no connection to radical Islam from birth committed such heinous acts, if only to prevent similar events in the future and similar lives being destroyed.
Second, from a PR perspective it’s an enormous success.
Even those who had never heard of Rolling Stone are now aware of the publication. It’s enforced its floundering reputation for being edgy. They could have used a dozen different covers and run with the same story, and received no way near the same level of attention.
Third, it has attracted an entire new customer base.
While many people will no doubt boycot the magazine, I’d wager a greater number of people who rarely or never buy it will grab themselves a copy. Circulation figures will boost. Those readers might be inclined to buy the magazine the following month, and in this economy no publication can laugh off sales figures.
Fourth, it forcibly subverts the idea of what a terrorist is supposed to look like.
In the collective consciousness of today’s world, a terrorist looks something like Sadam Hussein – Muslim, bearded and with evil looking eyes. Twenty-Thirty years ago, a terrorist was Irish, and therefore looked like the white, Western world. Times are changing again. It also feels like a small “fuck you” to every media source that reported, in the confusion of the immediate wake of the bombings, that the suspect was male and brown. At the time of the bombings, there was no reason for any media source to report that the suspect was “brown” (particularly when that wasn’t true) other than to give a giant conspirational wink to everyone who was thinking “Al Qaeda”. Sloppy, sloppy journalism.
The fact that Rolling Stone have made what is probably a very smart move does not mean it wasn’t also a dick move. We are allowed to be shocked and angry; it is the exact reaction Rolling Stone were looking for. People are not ignorant or hateful for being angry. They are rightly so. Anyone glancing at the cover could have been mistaken that Tsarnev was a good-looking front man for a band, rather than the terrorist responsible* for the highest number of deaths from a US-soil terrorist attack since September 11th.
The greatest thing Rolling Stone have done is incite discussion, both in the media and amongst friends. I was furious this morning, but now that has given away to curiosity. I don’t know if I’ll buy the magazine – I don’t want to support what were a blatant dismissal of ethics – but I will be interested in what it has to say.
We’ll just have to wait until August.