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

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

£23000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small, friendly, proactive...

Recruitment Genius: Photographic Event Crew

£14500 - £22800 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developers - .NET / ASP.NET / WebAPI / JavaScript

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is required to join a lea...

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Solicitor - City

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A first rate opportunity to join a top ranking...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

After Savile, we must devote our energies to stopping child abuse taking place right now

Mary Dejevsky
A ‘hugely irritated’ Sir Malcolm Rifkind on his way home from Parliament on Monday  

Before rushing to criticise Malcolm Rifkind, do you know how much being an MP can cost?

Isabel Hardman
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower