By Alan Burke
---- — It’s been the dream of every rock star to see his smiling face on the cover of Rolling Stone. Which helps explain the harsh reaction after people got a look at the latest issue and found Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev staring soulfully back at them.
For many, it made little difference that the magazine featured Tsarnaev in order to attract readers to what’s been described as a well-researched article by Janet Reitman explaining the killer’s transition from popular schoolboy to terrorist “monster.” They saw it as glamorizing a heartless killer, treating him like the pop icons regularly featured on the cover, at a time when the imprisoned suspect has been attracting fans and supporters who insist on his innocence.
“I kind of thought it was disgusting,” said Shawn Smart of Salem regarding the cover image. “I don’t know why they had to put him on the cover like he was an artist or something.”
Smart recalls being “horrified” by the bombing. “Some people are sick,” he said, “and they do sick things.” While he understands why a publication might want to advertise an article examining the motivations of such people, he can’t understand why it’s featured in a magazine so obviously linked to popular culture.
“Why Rolling Stone?” Smart asked.
“I don’t think he deserves to be on the cover of the Rolling Stone,” said Susan Wallerscheid of Peabody. “Why did they put him on the cover? ... I don’t think he deserves anything, any kind of notoriety.”
“I was so upset about the children that were killed,” she added. “Even now ...” she begins, but words fail her.
A former librarian, Wallerscheid believes Tsarnaev belongs in infamous company. “I’ve read so much of serial killers,” she said. “That’s pretty much what he is, only he killed the people all at once.” Yet, she expressed some interest in the article accompanying the story, going so far as to consider buying the magazine. But when someone pointed out that this is exactly the purpose of putting the bomber on the cover, she decided, “I won’t buy it.”
Joe Mazzella of Danvers, about to enter his first year at Salem State, has given the question a lot of thought. “I think the article itself is particularly insightful,” he said. “It’s a look into the mind of a terrorist. ... It’s what we need to know.” On the other hand, if some are angry about the cover, he’s not surprised. “I understand where people are coming from.”
The bombings have a strong impact here, even for those, like Mazzella, who weren’t personally involved. It happened close to home. Even so, he sees the Rolling Stone cover in perspective. Controversial covers are nothing new at this magazine. “Just yesterday a friend showed me an old issue of the Rolling Stone that had Charles Manson on the cover.”
“I think it’s a disgrace,” said Bill Fouhey of Peabody, a retired teacher. “It’s an obvious ploy to sell magazines. ... They get all this free publicity from an act about as despicable as you can get.”
When the bombing happened, said Fouhey, he first hoped against hope that it was some sort of accident. Instead, “they found pieces of the bomb.” Photos taken prior to the bombing showed the accused killers mingling among the men, women and children they hoped to kill and maim. What justified such an act?
“There is no cause,” said Fouhey. “No reason. There are no victims they could have killed more innocent than children.”
“I don’t think he should be advertised,” said Pam Vanikiotis of Beverly. She understands the aim of the magazine in getting attention for their article. “They want to get people talking.” Even so, she winces at the mention of Tsarnaev on the cover.
“I was upset,” she said of her reaction to the bombing, a feeling that is still fresh and isn’t eased by seeing one of the perpetrators glorified. “Such a big, wonderful thing (the marathon) that happens every year had to be ruined. I can’t comprehend it. And I wonder — what is this world coming to?”