“Phwoar,” I thought. Then I felt a little ashamed because the familiar, doe-eyed, floppy-haired teenager on the cover looked remarkably like one of my son’s hot young friends. Or, worse, he was probably in a boy band.Whatever, he was the bomb … er. The bomber. Here was the Boston bombing suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, found bloodied in a boat, hiding from a massive police manhunt after he and his brother – killed in the chase – apparently packed rucksacks with nails and explosives, and then massacred and maimed scores of people near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
Yet he looks lovely as he smoulders into the camera. Of course, America immediately went into meltdown. How dare Rolling Stone portray Tsarnaev as a pin-up!
There were calls for the issue to be withdrawn, banned, and there were angry declarations that people would never buy Rolling Stone again. They said the magazine had posed the terror suspect, that they were glamourising him…
Yet this exact photo, with Tsarnaev creamy-skinned and soft-focused, was used on the front page of the New York Times in May. Nobody minded then.
Presumably the horrified reaction now is a reaction, not so much to the photo but to the individual’s reaction to the photo, because I clearly wasn’t the only one who went “Who’s the hunk? Oh.” I wasn’t the only one who fancied a terrorist.
Hell, I have past form in dating criminals purely because they were big-eyed with coy fringes.
Such is the banality of evil.
So did I miss the part in the rulebook for life that says criminals must be ugly? That terrorists must have long beards? Beady eyes? Goiters and hairy warts?
That, surely, is the point of the magazine’s article: bad books sometimes have winsome covers, and we are fools if we think evil manifests in the physical.
As my African-American friend succinctly put it: “It’s easier to think that evil’s face is different than ours. That’s part of racism’s hold – the belief I’ll recognise evil.”
Perhaps then Rolling Stone’s cover is just a mirror. Perhaps we should focus instead on what it reflects about human nature, and human prejudice.