Now is the time to subscribe to Rolling Stone

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It’s birthday season. Buy someone a subscription to Rolling Stone and tell ‘em you’re giving them the gift of intellect, because, as Ian Crouch at New Yorker best describes the outrage over the cover featuring Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev:

“…the vitriol and closed-mindedness of the Web response to the Rolling Stone cover, before anyone had the chance to read the article itself, is an example of two of the ugly public outcomes of terrorism: hostility toward free expression, and to the collection and examination of factual evidence; and a kind of culture-wide self-censorship encouraged by tragedy, in which certain responses are deemed correct and anything else is dismissed as tasteless or out of bounds.”

Ian’s identified the problem at its root: “the inconvenient image of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.” A monster who looks like a likeable version of us; the inconvenience of a blurry line between us and the other, the enemy.

Then we’ve got the Jack Osbournes sending out petitions, claiming: “Glamorizing a suspected terrorist on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine is not controversial, it’s just wrong.” I’ll leave it to Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi to explain why it’s not glamorization:

“…the jarringly non-threatening image of Tsarnaev is exactly the point of the whole story. If any of those who are up in arms about this cover had read Janet's piece, they would see that the lesson of this story is that there are no warning signs for terrorism, that even nice, polite, sweet-looking young kids can end up packing pressure-cookers full of shrapnel and tossing them into crowds of strangers.

Thus the cover picture is not intended to glamorize Tsarnaev. Just the opposite, I believe it's supposed to frighten. It's Tsarnaev's very normalcy and niceness that is the most monstrous and terrifying thing about him.”

But really the friction is “in this gap between the popular image of the magazine and the reality of its reporting.” Not many people know that Rolling Stone has been publishing some of the best political essays.

And here’s the thing about Jack Osbourne’s petition: it’s a petition “to donate all profit from this issue to victims of the Boston Marathon bombing.”

As noble as that sounds, this donation isn’t a form of kindness, it’s a form of punishment, and it’s a punishment that places money at the center: the idea that there is an unquestionable merit in giving the victims' families money wherever and whenever (“Lost a dear one? Here have some money!”), and the idea that where it would hurt Rolling Stone the most is its bank account (“Got some nerves? Watch what I do to your wallet!”).

My takeaways:

  1. Never let a tragedy come in the way of honest and meaningful discussions
  2. Even if you suspect Rolling Stone did it for the buzz/money, understand the value of having an intellectual space where this cover and/or article can exist
  3. Don’t act like the enemies are a different species: they are what any one of us could’ve become under unfavorable circumstances, and understanding that is the only way forward to a better society

Further Reading