I’m assuming a lot of people have been to the dentist recently. Otherwise, how would anyone know who or what is on the cover of Rolling Stone? Much like airport terminals keeping CNN in business, worthless left wing rags like Rolling Stone wouldn’t exist anymore if not for waiting rooms. Seriously, who actually subscribes to magazines nowadays? I don’t think I’ve ever said to myself, “Gee, I’d really love to pay money for a paper printout of the sort of information and commentary I read for free, online, 37 days ago.” This might be partly why I haven’t been quite as deliriously outraged as the general public by RS’s newest issue, featuring the Boston Bomber striking a glamour pose on the cover. I certainly do find it grotesque to give a child killer the Jim Morrison treatment, but I just can’t figure out why this is suddenly so upsetting to the masses.
Everyone seems to be dog piling on this poor innocent magazine. I mean, they’re merely prostituting their integrity for cheap publicity, why all the judgement, man? Celebrities, musicians, media, politicians, liberals, conservatives — all united in their condemnation. Several stores have vowed not to sell the newest issue, and millions have taken to the Internet pledging to boycott (which implies that they’re all frequent readers in the first place, which I find hard to imagine). This rare bit of unity is kind of refreshing, and I’m not looking to break up the group hug, I just want to call something to everyone’s attention: We live in a culture that usually finds evil to be glamorous and fascinating. I think that’s why the editors over at Rolling Stone are acting so surprised by this reaction. They’re probably thinking, “Wait, we’re the media, we glorify death and depravity every second of the day, why’s it suddenly such a problem?”
When you get past the emo Facebook profile pic on the front cover, the actual content of the “Jahar” write-up isn’t exactly complimentary. It details, accurately from what I understand, his plunge from popular pretty boy to mass killer. The headline even refers to him as a “monster.” Yet, the whole thing has an aura of “rock star” to it. Especially considering the publication in question, it feels like a Behind the Music special, or a tabloid biography of a drug addled former child sitcom star. Tsarnaev doesn’t deserve, nor does he warrant, that sort of pop culture close-up. He is just a cowardly failure who planted a bomb in a book bag to make himself feel powerful.
He gets the celebrity spotlight because he is a destroyer. And, in our society, those who destroy get the main stage, while those who help and heal are left out on the fringes. Turn on the TV. Go to a movie. Listen to a rap song. Virtually all you’ll encounter is nihilism and stylized evil. The Culture of Death, as Pope John Paul II called it, and rightly so. Is this Rolling Stone cover even anymore tasteless than cable news outlets coming up with their own graphics and theme music for each new sensational mass tragedy? Is it worse than a Tarantino flick where every single character is a debauched lunatic? Sure, that’s “fiction,” it’s “entertainment.” But why is it entertaining? Because we enjoy dark fantasies of an amoral world where there’s nothing cooler than being a murderous pervert. In fact, it’s no coincidence that this fantasy becomes more real every day.
We are enthralled by bad people. Face it. Humans, due to our fallen nature, have always found something mysterious and alluring about bad men, but in modern times we feed this disordered attraction on a minute-to-minute basis. This is unfortunate for many reasons, not the least of which being how tedious it really is. Evil isn’t that interesting. Bad guys don’t come in that many varieties. Their motivations are similar, their “fall from grace” generally follows a common path. Skim the biography of any serial killer or mob hit man (they all have them, which only serves to illustrate my point) and you’ll find they read like a depressing mad lib. It’s the same story. Alienated and desperate… finds a sense of power and authority in rape and murder… lots of people die… finally caught… arrest… trial… prison… Dateline interview, etc. It’s a tale of violence and diabolism, and it’s also pretty damn predictable. Evil is one dimensional. It has only one end and only one purpose. That’s the point, I think. Evil seeks to turn us in on ourselves and to drain us of everything that makes us unique and dynamic. This is what makes our fascination with it all the more troubling. Sure, there is a conversation we could have about what leads someone to succumb to dark temptations and embark on this path of murder and self-obliteration. That could be a complex and important discussion, but it would require us to talk about things like the dangers of post-modern relativism and neo-secularism, and the need for a spiritual foundation. We aren’t willing to go there, so the conversation is pointless.
Good people, on the other hand, are truly captivating. Heroes are fascinating. Pick up a book about Martin Luther King Jr or Mother Teresa, Medal of Honor recipients or medieval saints, Holocaust survivors or paraplegic mountain climbers, and you’ll find stories as dissimilar as they are inspiring. Goodness comes in infinite forms and it drives people to do compelling and uncommon things. Tales of courage aren’t just constructive and redemptive for all involved, they’re also much more entertaining than the redundant chronicle of another pathetic scumbag. If Rolling Stone wants to profile a young guy with a funky name who has been in the news recently, why not put Temar Boggs on the cover? He’s the 15-year-old who, along with a few friends, hopped on his bike and chased down a van to save a kidnapped child. After a 15 minute pursuit, the kidnapper panicked, pulled over and pushed the young girl out of the vehicle. She ran into Temar’s arms, and he carried her home to her mother. Now THAT’S a story. Amazing. Interesting. Riveting. I want to know more about this kid. I don’t, on the other hand, need to know any more about the effeminate punk who set a couple of crude bombs on a crowded street.
But that magazine story — the one about selflessness and innocence — wouldn’t sell like this one will, despite the boycotts. That’s not to let Rolling Stone off the hook, I’m just being realistic. We can lambaste the media for serving us glamorous filth, but then we need to figure out why we are normally so anxious to consume it.