Scream, yell, boycott, fist-pound, denounce, threaten, rinse repeat.
The outrage is nothing if predictable.
This week’s is brought to you courtesy of Rolling Stone with their smoky hot, sepia-tinged, Jim Morrison inspired cover of Boston bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
We have that propensity to engage this conversation every time a crime captures the public imagination.
The conversation about what’s appropriate and what’s not is explored with screams of outrage, threats of boycotts and earnest talking heads on talk shows discussing the merits, interspersed with the offending images themselves.
Mayors write letters. People accuse the publications or media outlets of capitalizing on the tragedy of the victims.
Self-righteous finger-pointing has turned into a formulaic art form. Along with the requisite editorial apologies.
When the images are the victims, there is a special disgust reserved, which seems to be forgotten when angry denouncements are made over using images of the perpetrators.
The images themselves become indelible, seared into the consciousness as part of the story.
Crime scene images of Nicole Brown Simpson’s slashed throat, Jon Benet Ramsey’s little arm with a ring on the finger and twine used to tie her hands still on the arm, the falling man on 911, autopsy photos of Michael Jackson or coffin photos of Whitney Houston.
And we get sucked in every time. As we suck, lick, guzzle, gorge, feast, inhale and consume every last tiny morsel with the delicateness of pigs on acid.
Sure, the media gets it wrong more often than not. When Time put OJ Simpson on their cover, they thought it would be tasteful to darken him to look blacker than he is in case the racist undertones weren’t boiling enough without them stoking the fires.
Time also saw fit to put a racist, bigoted self-serving lunatic on their cover, presumably because a steaming pile of excrement might have been considered obscene.
And context is relevant. Rolling Stone is renowned for its rock star treatment of, well, rock stars.
Yes, it has the likes of Matt Taibbi writing for it, one of the more prolific journalists covering Wall Street better than any other financial journalist I can think of. And yes, it covers important stories that transcend music really well.
But at the end of the day, we expect Amy Winehouse on the cover. Or Cory Monteith.
Some kid, disenfranchised or confused wondering what the hell to do with his life — or how to best end it — looks at a Rolling Stone cover with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev staring dreamily on the cover and thinks that if he does something even more violent than bomb Boston, he too will make the cover, and forever be remembered for his blaze of glory exit act.
Unaware that it wasn’t really about that, but probably more likely that Jann Wenner, Rolling Stone’s publisher, found Dzhokhar Tsarnaev fuckable enough to sell his magazine.
And about us, titillated enough to buy it. Hook, line and sinker.
Clinton Fein is an internationally acclaimed author, artist, and First Amendment activist, best-known for his 1997 First Amendment Supreme Court victory against United States Attorney General Janet Reno. Fein has also gained international recognition for his Annoy.com site, and for his work as a political artist. Fein is on the Board of Directors of the First Amendment Project, “a nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to protecting and promoting freedom of information, expression, and petition.” Fein’s political and privacy activism have been widely covered around the world. His work also led him to be nominated for a 2001 PEN/Newman’s Own First Amendment Award.
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