The Killer On The Cover Of Rolling Stone

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On April 15th, 2013, the city of Boston awoke eager and excited for the annual Boston Marathon, unaware of the terror they would soon endure. At the finish line of the race, two bombs detonated, killing three people, injuring hundreds, and traumatizing all of Boston and beyond. On July 16th that same year, Rolling Stone released a cover photo for their August issue showcasing the bomber (Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev), a choice that caused many people to relive that horrific day, and further the misery they experienced.

Rolling Stone’s decision to put this killer on their cover, a place usually reserved for music legends and movie stars, was both ignorant and mercenary, and invalidated the pain and trauma victims, witnesses, and their families suffered. The front page of Rolling Stone magazine is typically one of prestige, reserved for potent stars and influential personalities (David Bowie, Aretha Franklin, Pope Francis, just to name a few). So, wedging a murderer into a lineup of some of the world’s most revered people is an absolute disgrace.

What is even worse, is the way the photo is presented. In his op-ed on Boston.com, “The Boston Marathon bomber is a rock star, says ‘Rolling Stone’”, Bostonian Scott Kearnan satirically describes Tsarnaev’s appearance in the photo, “Trendy t-shirt! Tousled hair! Brightened eyes cocked in that totes-casual OH HAIIIII pose that the kidz strike for Instagram selfies!” The photo of Tsarnaev is extremely casual and misleading. If the context is taken away, one would think he was a member of an up-and-coming boy band, or “the top billed act on a Bonnaroo flyer”, not the man responsible for ruthlessly terminating the lives of three innocent people, and injuring two hundred and sixty four more. When selecting the photo for this cover, Rolling Stone neglected to consider how the photo may affect victims and their families.

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Furthermore, the text on the cover page suggests that Tsarnaev, too, was a victim; a “popular” kid “failed” by those around him. Imagine losing a loved one to a violent crime and spending months healing, only to be ripped apart once more when your loss is invalidated by the media. Undoubtedly, Rolling Stone’s front page decision was an act of pure evil. Kearnan is a Boston native, so he was obviously affected quite deeply by the bombing, which made his op-ed all the more compelling to read. His personal connection to the city helped to exaggerate the subtle pathos in the piece. The author’s use of satire put a lighthearted and humorous tone on a heavy topic, without taking away from the argument. He described the bomber in an effective yet funny way, calling his cover photo a “fit-for-framing dorm poster”, and a “Jonas Brother”. Moreover, his assertion was explicit, and continuously backed with reason. Although Rolling Stone’s decision to make a murderer the face of their August issue was obviously a bad one, there is something to be said for this strategic marketing tactic. It may seem horrific to use a violent tragedy as lure, but that is what media outlets do. As stated by The New York Times, “commercial and editorial motives were are work, as they are when almost anyone publishes anything.”

At the end of the day Rolling Stone’s objective is to sell magazines, and that is exactly what they did. According to CNN, over 13,000 copies of the controversial issue were sold in under ten days, double the magazine’s average sales from the previous year. This controversy prompted a great deal of publicity for both the August issue and the magazine as a whole. Editorially, the cover was a success, ethically, not so much. The magazine’s desperate effort to match Tsarnaev to their usual aesthetic was evident, as they deliberately chose a photo that “closely resembles a teen idol’s publicity photo”. In their efforts to sell magazines, Rolling Stone made Tsarnaev a star while making victims illegitimate. Rolling Stone’s decision to put such a misleading photo on their cover page was clearly mercenary, and disregarded those affected by the bombing in order to profit. The photo of the bomber and the text surrounding it is presented in the same way any deserving celebrity would be presented. Furthermore, this presentation paints Tsarnaev as a regular teenager who only committed this horrific crime because he was failed by his own family. Scott Kearnan addresses these ideas persuasively and satirically in his Boston.com op-ed, “The Boston Marathon bomber is a rock star, says ‘Rolling Stone’”.

Overall, the cover of the August 2013 Rolling Stone issue invalidates the suffering the victims, witnesses, and their families endured.

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