I wasn’t going to weigh in on this.
Because (and the list is nowhere near exhaustive):
1) This blog is supposed to be about myth and music and the good stuff that we have to teach each other- and how these things permeate and enrich our world cultures.
2) I’m not from Boston, so I can’t really comprehend the pain in the city and the rawness of the feelings of violation and horror stemming from the act of terror that occurred at an event as historical and important to its identity as the Marathon
3) I don’t personally know anyone whose life was forever altered by the (alleged) heinous actions of the accused and his brother (although I do empathize with the depth of their loss and with the continuing struggles they will face as a result of this act of terror)
N.B.- I use the qualifier ‘alleged’ only because the US justice system (in its holier-than-thou assertions about rights and freedoms) is very big on insisting upon the whole ‘innocent until proven guilty’ thing. And, unless I missed it, there has been no trial as of yet that has resulted in a conviction for the crimes he is accused of committing.
4) I tend to agree that many (too many) journos are all about sensationalism and grabbing readers without any thought given to their subjects’ feelings or, as in this case, the feelings of the victims of the subject(s).
5) Our ‘celebrity culture’ does tend to celebrate BOTH the famous and the infamous- and the ignorant among us (who are, terrifyingly, legion) often have trouble discerning differences between the two designations.
6) Most of me recoils at the thought of doing ANYthing that might be construed as contributing to any sensationalizing- and the infamy- of someone who could do what he did.
7) The cover photo was a really really bad editorial choice.
But that doesn’t mean that the story shouldn’t be told.
Contrary to many of the criticisms that I’ve seen floating around out there, Rolling Stone is NOT ‘just’ a ‘music magazine.’ Since its founding in 1967, it has been known for its political reporting and commentary. The likes of Hunter S. Thompson produced important political and social commentary for the magazine- that retains it relevance 35+ years later.
Sure, in the 80s and (especially) the 90s the focus shifted to one of more ‘general entertainment’ away from regions of controversy and stories of any great depth.
But it returned to relevance in recent years largely through the work of Michael Hastings (who died in a car accident a little over a month ago) and Matt Taibbi- young journos known and heralded for their hard-hitting exposés of the American military and fraudulent American banking activities, respectively.
Janet Reitman, the author of the article in question, wrote a story uncovering the workings of the Church of Scientology that was nominated for the National Magazine Award and provided the genesis of her book Inside Scientology. I know from experience what a hard group of nuts those Scientologists can be to crack, and her examination of the cult is both comprehensive and riveting.
The recent products of these three fine journos alone should be demonstration enough that criticising Rolling Stone for publishing an article about something other than music/entertainment is misplaced and ludicrous on its face. But the mandate of the magazine was never restricted to entertainment. In its first edition, founder and chief editor Jann Wenner described Rolling Stone as “not just about the music, but about the things and attitudes that music embraces.”
If you are one of the incredibly kind readers who has been following my trains of thought over the past few months, you know that I have repeatedly emphasized that our myths and music are, and always have been, fundamentally connected to our societies and cultures and the main indicator of what it is to be human. Our stories and songs talk about the things that need working out. Counter-cultural movements have always used music as a means of illustrating inequity and calling for change.
The cover story of the August 1, 2013 Rolling Stone Magazine is very much in keeping with this awareness that myth, music, culture, history and contemporary events/issues/concerns are inextricably linked.
This post is not really meant to be a defence of the magazine. As I said, I think that the cover photo panders to society’s repugnant need for sensationalism and voyeurism. It is a magazine that is assumed- rightly or wrongly– to be mainly about music and rock stars, so using a photo that evokes Jim Morrison was both in poor taste and something that, in MHO, warrants some of the critical bombardment that’s out there at the moment.
Using that photo seriously smacks of sensationalism with the ultimate goal to do nothing more than sell magazines. True journalistic integrity might suggest that the story could have been presented differently- in a way that better acknowledged the sensibilities of the victims and the city of Boston as a whole.
I won’t be buying the magazine, but they’ve hardly lost a customer.
Like most people I know, I rarely buy print magazines or newspapers these days. I will read engaging and important articles off of interworld sites until the cows come home, and I even like heading to libraries and checking out the microfiche every now and again.
The last time I purchased a Rolling Stone this was the cover:
(okay, that’s a tad hyperbolic, but you get the idea).
Still I firmly believe that this story NEEDS to be told.
There are too many similar tales out there (like this one) and as a society we have to get to the bottom of where these impulses, these examples of radicalization and extremism are being created, nurtured and ultimately facilitated into actions. Actions that are undeniably terrible and tragic and heartbreaking. Actions that cannot be swept under rugs of ‘respectability.’
They should be investigated and presented with a clear application of respect and sensitivity. Did Rolling Stone miss that mark somewhat? Arguably, yes. Is the magazine as reprehensible in its pandering to a particular audience and in its thoughtless quest for readers/ratings as other media outlets I could name? I don’t think so.
Whether or not your personal views dictate that you should/shouldn’t give the article and the magazine any of your time, it has already accomplished something that the most responsible of news stories should do. There is dialogue happening (even if some of it is admittedly hysterical and reactionary) and informed, well-reasoned discussion is always a good thing in a civilized society.
Next up: The whys and wherefores regarding the need for the search of root causes (‘committing sociology’, if you will) and an examination the problems associated with ‘making’ monsters/externalizing ‘evil’.
The former is something we MUST keep doing and the latter is something that HAS to stop…