Shock Value of a Selfie

If you were in 10 feet of a television or computer yesterday, you heard about or even saw Rolling Stone Magazine’s controversial cover for their August 3rd publication. The cover features surviving Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhohkar Tsarnaev with the headline “The Bomber.” The tagline underneath reads “How a popular, promising student, failed by his family, fell into radical Islam and became a monster.” The picture, taken by Tsarnev himself, has also been featured on the front page of the New York Times. The magazine hasn’t even hit newsstands yet but already stirred up the emotions of many. 

When the cover appeared all over the Internet yesterday, people were outraged. On my own timeline, I saw several people who said they would be boycotting Rolling Stone magazine because of it. A Facebook page dedicated to a said boycott already has 26,000 likes and #BoycottRollingStone was a trending topic on Twitter yesterday. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino sent a letter to Wenner Media, who publishes the magazine, saying the cover was a disgrace and should have been about the first responders. Stores including CVS and Walgreens refused to distribute the magazine as well. After all this, Rolling Stone stands by their cover, releasing this statement yesterday:

“The fact that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is young, and in the same age group as many of our readers, makes it all the more important for us to examine the complexities of this issue and gain a more complete understanding of how a tragedy like this happens.” 

Rolling Stone CoverTo me, the question Rolling Stone needs to ask is was the shock value of this cover worth this fire storm of outrage from the public? It appears their intentions are good and that they are trying to shed light onto a situation many cannot understand. However, we will not know if this is true until we read the article. It is true that people who normally wouldn’t care about Rolling Stone are now talking about it and generating online conversation about the magazine. But, if this is all negative conversation that leads to boycotting, is it worth it. Shouldn’t a magazine’s bottom line be about sales not about trending on Twitter?

Rolling Stone has published highly controversial covers before. They’ve featured John Lennon holding a nude Yoko Ono as well as a nude Janet Jackson. Possibly their most arguable cover to date featured Charles Manson; the article attached to this cover subsequently won the magazine an award. They’ve been known to push the envelope and write pieces that could be considered over the edge. 

 I can understand both sides of the issue in this situation. Rolling Stone is committed to reporting every aspect of the Boston Marathon Bombing, including information about Tsarnaev. As a writer, I admire this and applaud them for broaching such a topic. However, the events that occurred that day were tragic and the general public is not ready to see this terrorist on a cover of a national magazine. While those affected will never be the same, more time might have prevented such backlash. 

What do you think about the Rolling Stone cover? Would you read the article?

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5 thoughts on “Shock Value of a Selfie

  1. Christina Kimani July 18, 2013 at 9:39 am Reply

    As terrible as it is, I am intrigued. I will most likely read the article.

    • Alex Crispino July 18, 2013 at 10:05 am Reply

      I would have to agree with you as I’m interested too. Thanks for reading and sharing!

  2. JasMollica July 18, 2013 at 10:12 am Reply

    There is history to bad people being on covers of magazines. “Time” had Adolph Hitler as it’s 1938 Man of the Year. As a former journalist, I understand the news value of digging deeper into a story. Do we really need to “hear” Tsarnaev’s story? What value with hearing it bring to those affected? Do people around RS target demo, and Tsarnaev’s, actually read this? These are all questions I’m sure the folks at RS asked.
    Will I read it? No. But, I don’t fault RS for doing a cover story on it.

  3. Carol Restaino July 18, 2013 at 10:25 am Reply

    There is nothing in that magazine that I need to read to know the truth of this tragedy. They are in it to sell magazines and though I applaud their free enterprise savvy I condemn the avenue and callous and cavalier way of exploiting this terror attack for economic gain.

  4. Alex Crispino July 18, 2013 at 11:24 am Reply

    I think you both bring up valid points. This is not the first and will certainly not be the last controversial cover magazine cover. It is a bit of an exploitation and while it is admirable from a journalist point of view, no one at RS was thinking about the victims, their families and the Boston community. I honestly believe it will backfire on them and they will see a decrease in sales. I am only now interested in the story because of all the attention its getting; RS’s strategy worked. However, I will absolutely not pay for it, instead I’ll stand in a store, read it and put it back. Thank you both for reading and sharing your thoughts!

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