Portrait Of A Villain

If you want to call for a boycott of the new issue of Rolling Stone because of the cover, obviously, that’s your right. Go ahead. Knock yourself out. But honestly, you’re kind of missing the point. I didn’t initially see it as glamorizing Tsarnaev, and I only see it that way now through the lens of other people’s opinions. The cover also refers to him as a monster and a radical islamist, for what it’s worth.

So, what picture should they have used? A mugshot, perhaps? That’d be the mugshot we’ve seen a billion times. Maybe a picture of him in custody, or at his arrest. I suppose those are all valid options. But they don’t fit the story, and they don’t have the impact that the actual photo does. The point of the article is to ask how an otherwise normal, well adjusted kid turns into a terrorist and a murderer – which is a bit of an uncomfortable question. We don’t like to do that here in America, because it makes it slightly harder to decide who the bad guys are.

I mean, are we really so thick that we need a scary picture on the cover of the magazine to identify him as the Boston Bomber? Should they have red-stamped “EVIL DUDE” on his forehead, just to make sure everyone could keep up? Maybe Rolling Stone should have written “This Photo Is Supposed To Be Ironic” somewhere as a caption.

In truth, I think the public reaction to that photograph says a lot more about how we, as a people, view celebrity, media, and popular culture than it does about Rolling Stone. What people are saying when they complain about that photo is that they made Tsarnaev seem pretty, and he doesn’t deserve to be pretty. He’s a villain, and he needs to be shown with a sneer on his face, lit from underneath like a camp counselor’s horror story. The photo makes someone we’ve all decided is “the other” look not just like one of us, but like someone our media might idolize.

Perhaps it makes parents uncomfortable because it’s a face they might see on a poster on their kids’ wall, and thus they have rolled out the fainting couches. Look, if you can’t explain to your children that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is different from Justin Bieber (which should be a bonus for you, because now you’ve found someone more awful than Justin Bieber), maybe the problem is your shitty parenting.

And as for the people who are upset that Rolling Stone did not, instead, feature an article about the people who died during the bombing? Arguing from an emotional appeal is weasel work at best, so cut the shit. That’s not the topic of the article. What you’re asking is for a completely different thing than was delivered. Besides which, most of you didn’t give two shits about those families’ stories until the internet told you you were supposed to be angry about it again.

So like I said, if you want to boycott the magazine, that’s fine. But cast off the lie that you’re protesting in outrage, and own up to the fact that the photo just plain makes you uncomfortable. Rolling Stone featured a real life antagonist in the same context that we reverently reserve for the semi-talented collection of carnival barkers, circus clowns, stage acts, and jackals that comprise our lauded and finely cultivated celebrity population. Those are people to be breathlessly lionized on their rise to stardom and ruthlessly derided during their fall from grace.

We can’t handle the idea that Tsarnaev is a person (a very bad person, if you like, but still a person) and might have had reasons (again, very bad reasons) for his actions. We refuse to interface with him, or even the concept of him, in that way. It’s why that photo is so jarring, so stark, and perhaps, so necessary.


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One response to “Portrait Of A Villain”

  1. Nicholas says:

    Holy shit you’r still alive. I google Ra Atum Nak and this is what shows up.

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