Saturday, August 17, 2013

Rolling Stone cover gathers no remorse.

The Rolling Stone issue featuring  Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover, a cover which was attacked by some narrow minded conclusion jumping self appointed censors, and which both CVS and Walgreens decided to ban from their magazine displays, became, ironically, one of the biggest selling single issues in Rolling Stone's history.

The criticism by those who were "outraged" by the cover  made one thing abundantly clear : none of them had ever read a single issue of Rolling Stone in their lives and none of them bothered to read the article.
The major complaint about the cover was that Tsarnaev was being given the "rock star treatment" .
The cover photo, which had been circulated and seen before in other contexts, showed Tsarnaev as an innocent, almost angelic,  tousle haired college age kid who a lot of people would have found attractive. Calling this "giving Tsarnaev the rock star treatment" as the Mayor of Boston called it, and as some others who took exception to the cover,  is a pretty good indication that neither he nor any of those doing the criticizing thought there was a difference between Rolling Stone and  Fab Teen Beat.

Never mind that the cover blurb with the photo, to paraphrase it said,  " How a popular promising student fell into radical Islam and became a monster".

That was the point: that evil can look like this. Benign. Non- threatening. Innocent. A point that went well over the heads of those criticizing the cover who saw it on their own superficial terms, both misunderstanding it and making grossly wrong headed assumptions about where it appeared and like censors everywhere, thought that their sensibilities and judgement were superior and the ones that mattered and so wanted to supress it.

Had the same image with the same cover blurb appeared on the cover of Time, or National Review, or Esquire or the New York Times magazine no one would have said a word. No one would have called it giving the bomber "the rock star treatment". Only because it was Rolling Stone,  a handful of narrow minded conclusion jumping critics  attacked the cover and Rolling Stone  for running it preposterously believing that Rolling Stone was glamourizing Tsarnaev  instead of what the picture was really conveying -- the truth.  The critics also seemed oblivious to the fact that Rolling Stone has been reporting on more than the  music scene for decades, and cover politics, foreign and domestic policy and current events.

If there is any reak criticism to be made of Rolling Stone, its that they didn't defend the cover more vigorously.

The cover was both a function of art direction ( something I know about having  won awards for art direction in the advertising business at the beginning of my professional life) and editorial comment. Both the editorial comment and the image that re-enforced it had impact because it made the point and showed that evil can look like this: innocent, unsuspecting, casual, friendly. Which was the whole point. A point that a group of politicians and corporate executives missed  because they were too busy getting "outraged"   and narrow minded instead of being informed.

CVS's decision, out of either  a moment of PR grandstanding or a misplaced fear of public condemnation, banned the issue from being sold in their stores. So did Walgreens.

That CVS took issue with the cover photo and thus the art direction and design and the concept behind what the cover was conveying and substituted  their own taste and judgement over the belief that the cover would offend their customers sensibilites and sense of aesthetics is especially amusing considering that anyone who has ever been inside a CVS store  knows the place looks like it was designed by committee of retired teachers aides.

 The cover and the reactions by those who completely misunderstood it but who thought they knew best and decided their taste and judgement was the right one makes the case again that censorship of any kind has no place in a free society. Those who want to be the deciders of what other people should see, read and hear,  have proved again, as they have throughout history, that those who create what the censors want to stop make a greater contribution to society than those who want to stop it. And they always will.


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