Johnny Depp. Justin Bieber. Rihanna. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev? Whoa!
Known for gracing its covers with musicians, movie actors and pop icons, Rolling Stone magazine has frequently tapped the pulse of the zeitgeist. But by plastering the face of the brooding Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tsarnaev, on its iconic cover is nothing short of reprehensible.
Unfortunately, it’s also none too surprising given the status the media often attributes to terrorists.
Like so many modern-day terms, “terrorist” gets labeled far too widely and for many on the Left, it can even serve as a badge of honor. From Yasser Arafat (winner of the Nobel Peace Prize) to Osama bin Laden and Bill Ayers, it has been predicated upon a variety of sorts.
But let’s rewind the tape a bit. Media-wise, everything changed just over 40-years-ago, in 1972, when the world witnessed one of its first up-close, televised, human (if you can call them that) incarnations. The masked hostage taker hovering on the balcony of the Israeli athletes’ residence in Munich during the Olympics became etched in our collective conscience.
Glued to TV sets, many of us in the world watched in horror. Yet for others, they saw it as a new form of celebrity. Eventually, the image of the terrorist morphed into a post-modern-day outlaw. And with it, a mystique.
The pejorative meaning that “terrorist” once possessed rose to symbolize something quite different, depending on who’s using it and whom it’s being labeled upon, from evil-doer to freedom fighter.
Take Arafat as an example. He was able to morph, chameleon-like, from gun-toting thug into White House guest. He could be, and even say, one thing on the world’s stage, and quite another to his followers.
He learned how to adapt when it suited him. When “terrorist” became unfashionable, he would smile for the cameras and, twisting cleverly, use his beaten-down status as a tool. He would become the anti-hero. And, it worked.
Why? Because it fit so well with our postmodern-day perception of a hero. What is a rocker, but someone who rebels against the establishment? In our pop culture, look at the deification of Kurt Cobain, Sid Vicious and the lofty eminence thrust onto Eminem. (BTW: Each one has graced the cover of Rolling Stone.)
And each in their own way are offspring of what the playwright John Osbourne in his seminal stage creation “Look Back In Anger” captured when he displayed the mood of “the angry young man.”
The anti-hero became the hero.
For those of you only familiar with an Osbourne (first name spelled Ozzy), a way to get a better picture of “the angry young man” is to think (or rent) Marlon Brando in his quintessential anti-establishment role as Johnny, leader of the Black Rebels motorcycle gang in “The Wild One.”
Politically, socially and economically, the anti-hero became the poster child for the extreme Left and the image of the rebel was exploited to promote dissent. Dissent from what? Well as Johnny would say, … “What’ve you got?” Free trade? Corporations? Israel? Globalization?
Politically, the use of the anti-hero image has served leaders of the extreme Left well by twisting around what Hegel described as a master/slave relationship and using it as a means to win sympathy, approval and, most of all, celebrity. Take for example how for years many would have liked to have plugged a hole in Arafat’s keffiyeh. Yet we realized he would have become a martyr the second he was shot. He’d then live on in infamy. Nothing would have served him or his cause better. So we held fire.
Arafat understood how to use the media, and others of his ilk know this trick all too well too. They know that while everyone loves a winner, many more love to root for an underdog.
The trick is to remain an underdog. That way you’ll always have a sympathetic base of support to draw on.
Back in May the LA Times reported on Dzhokhar’s online fanbase made up of thousands of fangirls who all think he’s “cute.” It read, “The Bambi eyes (looking right out of his Instagram-doctored photos at you!), the hipster facial stubble, the masses of wine-dark tousled hair — adorable!” Twitter, Tumblr, etc., all shared photos of him as if he were the latest teen idol.
What we’re seeing today on the cover of Rolling Stone is the chic glamorization of that hipster rebellion.
The terrorist is the extreme incarnation of it — an inversion of the hero into the anti-hero and in today’s pop culture, driven by celebrity, and able to spread virally, it thrives.