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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.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (20+ / 0-)

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    by UnaSpenser on Wed Jul 17, 2013 at 04:23:14 PM PDT

  •  I don't think that's it at all. I'm going to (7+ / 0-)

    include a comment from another thread...

    As with a magazine like 'Vogue' (which sometimes has excellent stories as well),

    By virtue of being on the cover, you are granted all the expertise of the best photo/image editors, get a stylistic appeal that goes above and beyond the original image, and by virtue of that gain instant celebrity status.

    I agree with those who say that the image DOES glorify him it depicts him as a rock star--the terms 'terrorist' 'monster' 'bomber' notwithstanding.  The picture is what you see--not the words.  And the magazine editors know this.

    Sure, some criminals are good looking.  But the RS put every resource in its disposal to make sure that this photo was of the highest stylistic standard worthy of every other 'celebrity' they put on its cover.

    That's what annoys me.

    •  its exactly the photo the Daily News used and (5+ / 0-)

      it's exactly the photo he had in his facebook profile:

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      by UnaSpenser on Wed Jul 17, 2013 at 04:39:45 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  doesn't matter--there's always image editing. (5+ / 0-)

        shadowing, lighting, cropping (and of course someone is likely to use the best possible image in a fb photo).  The NY Daily News version is quite a bit lower-key(without the RS treatment)--the RS one looks exactly like a head-shot for an acting gig.

        But it's not just the picture--it's the whole presentation.  He does, indeed, get the Rolling Stone treatment.

        Look, Una--can you honestly tell me that the rationale behind RS's cover was NOT to present him as an indie-rock star?

        •  They just reframed the image (0+ / 0-)

          for the rolling stone cover, from what I can tell. The original still has the same feel. Which isn't to say anything about putting him on the cover in the first place. People seem to be outraged because he wasn't properly demonized.

          If debt were a moral issue then, lacking morals, corporations could never be in debt.

          by AoT on Thu Jul 18, 2013 at 09:53:17 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Agreed. In retrospect, I don't know why I (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      bevenro, greengemini, Odysseus, erush1345

      Felt compelled to diary this last night--it's not that big a deal in the scheme of things. But it remains true that the cover of Rolling Stone (not the words inside) is perhaps the most significant index of sexy hotness in the media. I object on that ground, and because it seems like a pointlessly shitty thing to do to the victims.

      I think cleverness is valued above decency by many, which is a shame. There is an important point to be made about how a "normal" stoner kid becomes a terrorist--I just think the teen idol coverboy shot was a very bad editorial decision.

      “liberals are the people who think that cruelty is the worst thing that we do” --Richard Rorty Also, I moved from NYC, so my username is inaccurate.

      by jeff in nyc on Wed Jul 17, 2013 at 04:43:02 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  also--by your comment, the RS evoked exactly (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    greengemini, erush1345

    what it was designed to evoke...

    a dialogue that is SOLELY about looks.  To the detraction of the actual story inside the magazine.  The fact that you're discussing whether the guy is sexy or not indicates to me that the RS completely sold itself out with this story.

    •  only if everybody chooses to stop the discussion (8+ / 0-)

      at that level.

      I read the entire article. There is a lot to be discussed about just how it was that everyone around him missed that he was abandoned by his parents - who moved to a different country! - and left under the influence of a clearly increasingly dogmatic older brother.

      All of his Chechnyan friends knew that in their culture older brothers have a nearly god status, but it didn't concern them?

      I think what scares us is that there are signs, but we don't pay attention. We're so busy getting through our own days that we are blind to the signals, particularly when someone is attractive.

      That the conversation is so much about how he looks on the cover and not the story is telling about our culture. And what it tells is a piece of why this boy ended up where he did, without anyone even noticing that he was headed there.

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      by UnaSpenser on Wed Jul 17, 2013 at 04:44:29 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  imagery is deeply linked with visceral reaction. (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        murrayewv, erush1345

        Sure, many will be drawn in to read the piece...but the talk is about the picture (which RS had to have known woudl be the case).

        But I think this 'attractive' business is overstated---so what?  Aside from the head shot--he's just a normal looking kid.  I don't think some sort of 'attractiveness' blinded everyone to a darker sounds like that's kind of where you're coming from.

  •  take exception (10+ / 0-)

    i like your diary, really do, including the insecurity about our own attractions. Yet, this touches on the opposite too. Someone who is a monster? What is a monster? we are all not children, are we? Who of us has not monstrous tendencies in themselves? That disturbs me more than finding a foto of someone attractive who has done a monstrous deed. More than that I am disturbed by the idea that something monstrous could not be us. That is what people really need to understand. The monstrous deeds are a potentiality thats hidden in anyone of us, and it is self-delusion to think any one of us could not have been by fate subject to a life story that resulted in them doing such a deed.

    This has been hammered home to us in my home country. I´m German. maybe it is that. But observing on this web site over a long time, this I find one of the most strong contrasts to things as I am used them: the assumption around here that since we are good, we cant be monsters. We can, it takes only a very little bit of tweaking.

    Behind this: why this desire to be just good, just clean? We are all humans. Why run away from it? Are we so insecure? It calls out my distrust.

    what matters is our struggle. What sets us apart is not that we "are" somehow above monstrous deeds. We never are. What sets us apart whether, or not, we try to overcome that side in us. There is no "aim", no end state. We are all threatened until our last breath, we are never absolved.

    •  I agree. I use the word monster because it was (4+ / 0-)

      used on the cover and it the word everybody applies to try and distinguish those "bad people" from us "good people."

      Yes, we are capable of monstrous deeds. And seeing this attractive boy probably triggers that realization in us, too. Which is more frightening than someone else being a "monster."

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      by UnaSpenser on Wed Jul 17, 2013 at 04:47:17 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  It's news. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    blueoasis, Catte Nappe

    TIME had Hitler on its cover.

    Warren/3-D Print of Warren in 2016!

    by dov12348 on Wed Jul 17, 2013 at 04:47:53 PM PDT

    •  'having someone on your cover' and (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      melfunction, kpardue, erush1345

      presenting someone in a manner so stylish it looks like a headshot for a high profile acting gig

      are not the same thing.  One is news--one is sensationalism.

      •  you've made your view known. I hope you don't (5+ / 0-)

        respond to everyone with this same content. It will limit the dialogue. Thank you.

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        by UnaSpenser on Wed Jul 17, 2013 at 04:54:53 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I'm suprised at you. You are usually a (4+ / 0-)

          reasonable and interesting commenter who I often enjoy reading.

          This strikes me as uncharacteristically defensive and unwilling to engage.  

          If you want to ban me from your diary for expressing a (fairly common) view in a few different forms (i.e. comments) go right ahead--I'll leave.  But I have lost a bit of respect.


          •  I'm not trying to ban you. I'd like to see other (4+ / 0-)

            points being made and not be hitting the same point over and over.

            I'm trying to limit my comments because i feel I've said what I had to say and I'd like to hear what others have to offer. Drumming the same point home again and again can tend to limit dialogue as people look at the comment thread, see the same people making the same points and feel it's tedious.

            I didn't mean to make you feel unwelcome. I'm awfully sorry if I did that and wasn't gracious enough in expressing what I was intending. Please forgive me.

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            by UnaSpenser on Wed Jul 17, 2013 at 05:06:55 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  no worries---i had a bunch of thoughts in my (5+ / 0-)

              head so was a bit insistent w/the comments.  (usually happens with these socio-cultural topics)

              it is a good discussion.

              There is actually a piece in politico (which is pro-cover) that shows the NYTimes and RS depictions next to each other...which I thought was interesting.  Some see them as completely different treatments (like me)  some don't (like Politico)


              •  thanks for the link. and for continuing the (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                melfunction, Odysseus, churchylafemme


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                by UnaSpenser on Wed Jul 17, 2013 at 05:24:07 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

              •  interesting on the photo: I see zoomed and (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Debby, murrayewv

                darkened for more clarity on the RS cover. But not much else different.

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                by UnaSpenser on Wed Jul 17, 2013 at 05:25:16 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  that's what I see, too. The difference to me (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  UnaSpenser, NancyK

                  is a bit like, say, newsroom lighting vs. soap-opera (softer) lighting.  Image is the same, but the way we think about it can bedifferent.

                  I guess an interesting question would be if the NY Times image were on the Stone as is (maybe only cropped for spacing)  would the outcry be the same?  It might--if people are simply feeling that he should be portrayed in the worst possible light (i.e. as a criminal).  But the fact that the NY Times image didn't seem to upset people (beyond the incident itself, obviously) does suggest to me that the 'affect' of the image (within the context of RS's stylistic parameters) is what got to people more than simply the person himself.

                  •  The cropping (2+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    bevenro, erush1345

                    combined with the titles around the outside serve to bring the focus more clearly to his (rather pretty) face.  It's much more fashion-magazine cover/model head shot/glam shot looking than the original rather neutral photograph.  And then there's the rock-and-roll-bad-boy connotations that come from being the cover photograph of Rolling Stone in the first place.

                    I don't find the disparity in reactions surprising or hypocritical.

                    Also more inclined to your view than the opposite overall.  I don't want to look at him, and I especially don't want to see him presented so overtly as something appealing.  I wonder if part of it has to do with my aversion to focus on the perpetrators of horrible crimes overall.  I'd just as soon their names were forgotten, that no media outlet would ever speak of them again.

                    •  the different pictures..... (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:

                      of this young man were interesting.  The video from the scene made him look like a nonchalant kid, ambling through the crowd behind his brother.  this was the best looking picture of him.  I think the Rolling Stone reaction is overdone, but it shows how raw the emotions in Boston are.  He and his brother crippled so many young healthy people.  The saddest part is that this goes on around the world and this is the first time we are really experiencing the horrible power of these bombs.

                      You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you mad. Aldous Huxley

                      by murrayewv on Thu Jul 18, 2013 at 03:38:38 AM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

      •  Actually, I'm looking forward to reading the (3+ / 0-)

        article. Rolling Stone is one of the few mags left that does rich journalism.

        Since I've only seen the cover, I'm not going to judge yet. I'd be surprised if it's not a thought-provoking and well-researched article. Sure, they probably knew it would be controversial to some, but we've gotten to a point in society where we hyperventilate about anything that makes us slightly uncomfortable.

        On the other hand, I never had an interest in reading the TIME issue with the woman nursing a small boy. I haven't read TIME in ages, but that's beside the point.

        P.S. I am not a crackpot.

        by BoiseBlue on Wed Jul 17, 2013 at 05:04:45 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I would expect a solid article (and I hear it's (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          well written). I haven't gotten around to reading it yet (my responses are on the image alone) but will try to get to it tonite or tomorrow.

          The image will definitely increase readership...

          •  the article is very good. a bit chilling. because (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            everyone is just left devastated.

            One part that is very touching is that his friends all wanted to be anonymous (pseudonyms are used) because they don't want to be harassed and because they don't want to deny that they are his friends. Current tense.

            They were relieved to learn that he cried for two days in the hospital.

            But then, there is a very appropriate line in the article.....

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            by UnaSpenser on Wed Jul 17, 2013 at 05:41:09 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

      •  Well given the proliferation of selfies... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Debby, AoT

        You better get used to this being the style du jour for tyrants, terrorists and teases of all stripes.

        I find these objections to have the same validity at those criticizing Rachel Jeantel for looking "bad" on tv. Just another example of how our society wants to see images in black and white even when the pixels are in color.

        •  there are many reasons for the objections. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          Some of them maybe because, as you suggest, people want to see images that conform to people's preconceived notions.  There are many other reasons as well.  

          But frankly I don't see a major issue with people, particularly Bostonians, who would prefer a more straightforward portrayal (I don't mean more criminal--I mean less glossy) of a person who hurt many of them.

  •  Hmmm.... (6+ / 0-)

    I dunno. I don't think he looks sexy at all. And before someone makes a smartass remark, yes, I know a sexy man when I see one.

    I'm kind of surprised that people equate sexy or attractive with good. I know your commentary is a bit deeper than that, but I don't get it. I mean, I thought bin Laden was a very handsome guy. He had a strikingly beautiful face, IMO. That certainly didn't make me sympathize with him.

    I wonder if this is something about our celebrity culture. We're always saturated with images of attractive people that we want to be like, so it startles us to see an attractive person that we detest.

    P.S. I am not a crackpot.

    by BoiseBlue on Wed Jul 17, 2013 at 04:48:40 PM PDT

  •  I'd have to read the article to see... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    ...if it's sensationalism.  I wouldn't judge anything from the cover alone.  And some people just don't take very many bad photos.

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    by dov12348 on Wed Jul 17, 2013 at 05:21:11 PM PDT

  •  Disagree (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Odysseus, guyeda

    It's not that he's "sexy", or we are scared of how "sexy" he is.

    It's the simple assumption of many that being on the cover of the Rolling Stone (or other pubs)is a positive recognition, a mark of honor. We've been through this multiple times when our local paper (Dallas Morning News) named the Texan of the Year; even though they say over and over and over - the person(s) they choose have had an impact. For good or ill. Tsarnaev did a big thing, it had a big impact. The only reason to object to his image being on the cover of RS, or the front page of any other publication, is the assumption that it is a good thing to be there, and what he did was not a good thing, so he doesn't "deserve" the reward of being there.

    So, let's all stop and think about what images should be on the FP of Rolling Stone or other pubs - given that only those who "deserve" positive recognition should be there. And what iconic images of the past should not have graced covers because they failed to meet that standard.

    “Texas is a so-called red state, but you’ve got 10 million Democrats here in Texas. And …, there are a whole lot of people here in Texas who need us, and who need us to fight for them.” President Obama

    by Catte Nappe on Wed Jul 17, 2013 at 06:30:11 PM PDT

  •  You hit the nail on the head. (4+ / 0-)

    Many people psychologically can't handle the fact that a criminal or terrorist could look just like them, or likeable.

    Instead, they prefer their criminals to be black and wear hoodies, and their terrorists to have long beards and turbans.

    The fact that Tsarnaev actually was good-looking, white, and at first glance comes across as the kind of kid who would be more likely to be interning at your office rather than planting bombs, is too much cognitive dissonance for some people to handle. So they criticize Rolling Stone for putting a nice pic of him on the cover, instead of reexamining their own stereotypes about what "the face of evil" is "supposed" to look like.

    The most serious problem in American politics today is that people with wrong ideas are uncompromising, and people with good ideas are submissive and unwilling to fight. Change that, and we might have a real democracy again.

    by Eric Stetson on Wed Jul 17, 2013 at 07:31:31 PM PDT

  •  Fascinating conversation. Thanks for posting Una.* (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    churchylafemme, UnaSpenser

    Democracy - 1 person 1 vote. Free Markets - More dollars more power.

    by k9disc on Wed Jul 17, 2013 at 09:41:13 PM PDT

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