Boston suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Rolling Stone: Cover stars don’t have to be heroes

That this image of Tsarnaev has been in the papers is neither here nor there

Share

The brouhaha about the Rolling Stone cover featuring Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev underlines how people have come to regard an appearance on a magazine cover as an automatic endorsement.

Boston city council president Stephen Murphy accused the magazine of “marketing Tsarnaev as a hero”. Actually, there’s nothing particularly heroic about the picture, the kind of “selfie” that any averagely narcissistic young dude can drum up nowadays.

The heroism is something the magazine format itself lends to any subject it places in its frame, which is why musicians, actors, sports stars and even politicians hire PRs to “get them the cover” (and nothing less), and at the same time to exert as much control over the tone of the picture as they can. What Murphy is reacting against is Tsarnaev’s appearance on the same cover that did so much to canonise stars such as Bruce Springsteen, Madonna and Bono as well as those whose celebrity followed them beyond the grave. Jim Morrison was celebrated with the cover line “He’s hot, he’s sexy, he’s dead”.

The fact that the same image of Tsarnaev has appeared in respectable newspapers is neither here nor there. He’s not in the cover. He’s on it. He’s Rolling Stone’s brand, its point of sale, its fleeting message to the moron in a hurry who, according to magazine lore, picks up a magazine on impulse. He’s also clearly identified as guilty via a cover line that wouldn’t get past the subs in the UK.

An old head like myself remembers the days when Rolling Stone was the Life magazine of the Woodstock generation. In those days it was no great surprise to see someone like Charles Manson on the cover, as he was in 1969. For today’s readers, who are more used to Taylor Swift and Jessica Alba, a visual style closer to Elle than Oz and ads for male grooming products rather than smoking paraphernalia, Tsarnaev will come as a shock, which will certainly hurt Rolling Stone in the short term. Some chains will pull the issue from the stands; a few advertisers will withdraw their business, but the magazine’s owner Jann Wenner may reckon it’s worth it to put a bit of rebel lustre back on his 50-year-old brand.

I spoke to Andy Cowles, the British art director who worked on Rolling Stone in the early 2000s. He defended what they did but not how they did it. “It’s a legitimate thing to have done, but by using a colour picture rather than black and white and letting the image run over the logo, they’ve lost the critical distance they needed.” (Andy has provided an example of what he would have done on his blog at http://coverthink.com). Such tiny details make all the difference.

Twitter: @davidhepworth

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The economy expanded by 0.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2014  

Government hails latest GDP figures, but there is still room for scepticism over this 'glorious recovery'

Ben Chu
Comedy queen: Miranda Hart has said that she is excited about working on the new film  

There is no such thing as a middle-class laugh

David Lister
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little