I'm completely intrigued by the reaction to the Tsarnaev cover of Rolling Stone.
Hunter gives a little of the initial public reaction in his diary, "Rolling Stone cover featuring Boston bomber draws anger, controversy"
Given that the NY Times used this same photo and that many, many pictures of him have been used to sell many papers and magazines, why such a visceral response to Rolling Stone?
My theory: we're horrified that we find him kind of sexy.
People are claiming that Rolling Stone is glamorizing him. The text calls him a monster right on the cover. Was it glamorizing of him when his picture showed up elsewhere? Or is it particularly problematic that his Facebook photo is so reminiscent of all the "sexy" shots of celebrities we usually see on Rolling Stone's cover.
I think it evokes a strong reaction because, even though Rolling Stone has some of the best investigative journalism in the country, we are accustomed to seeing the cover as a space where we're exposed to the latest person we're supposed to see as a "rock star."
Once you have that original response of "wow, cute boy!" you can't erase it. It's now a part of your life experience. You have to come to terms with it. Just as all his friends, teachers and coaches do.
They lived with this boy. He was their friend and confidant. He was a sort of local rock star. They are all struggling to align this pretty, friendly boy with the person who is federal prison now.
It all reminds me of a different version of how people respond when a child reports being sexually abused. The abuse is most often perpetrated by a man. A man whom many people know as a "good guy." He's often got a good job and is an upstanding community member. People rely upon him. They like him. They need him to be the "good guy" they have pre-determined he is. So, they are more willing to let a child continue to be abused than to open themselves to the idea that their judgment was wrong. In fact, more often than not, they are willing to vilify the victim.
How can we like someone who is a "monster"? How do we ever trust our judgment if we have to admit that someone we know and love and support and rely upon turns out to be a sociopath?
Life is full of risk. As social creatures, we try to minimize that risk by creating social bonds. We have families and communities and cultural norms and laws. All of this is to try and keep ourselves safe. We tell ourselves that if we are surrounded by good people, some of life's risks no longer have to be on our anxiety radar. It's a type of insurance system and we rely upon it profoundly.
Nothing scares us more than to think that we can't rely upon our judgment. Over the years, the one thing I've heard over and over when people are single and want to find a partner, but have been hurt in the past is that, "I can't trust my own judgment when it comes to romance." It isn't that people have hurt us. It's that we didn't see it coming. Or we ignored the signs and walked right into it.
That thing which makes us attracted to someone is a little unpredictable, in terms of it actually guiding us to someone who is trustworthy and would never do us harm.
If we can find a "monster" attractive, how do we know the person we're sleeping with or the next door neighbor is really as good as we think? Who do you trust? How do you trust yourself?
Do we not want to explore this? Is this why we have such a strong reaction to that cover photo?
I think it's a great topic of exploration, because we are exposed to so much manipulation by this weakness we have. It isn't just murderous sociopaths. We are led by our romantic noses into all kinds of trouble. We look past so many offensive and destructive behaviors because we find people attractive.
5:23 PM PT: I'd like to add that I find the glamorizing of a lot of things very disturbing. So, I don't support the whole marketing world of glamor. Jim Morrison was an abusive man, but its okay to say he was sexy, to immortalize his sexiness in a film. We confer power to people who are willing to trample on our rights, start wars, hold people in indefinite detention and condone torture. Then, because they have power, we call them sexy. We see them as glamorous. We let megalomaniacs acquire massive amounts of wealth and then wield destructive power against anyone not in their social class. But we give them TV shows and put them on magazines and see them as glamorous.
That said, given our culture, I'm not sure why there is a particular outrage here.