Rolling Stone Cover Makes Infamy Look Like Celebrity

The August 1 cover of Rolling Stone has all the classic elements the magazine is famous for employing: the iconic lettering, bold black text on a faded background, a brooding young man with tousled hair and a trendy t-shirt. It takes a moment to realize what’s different. The title description makes no mention of newly released albums or interviews with a popular TV cast, only the words “THE BOMBER.”

The man on the cover is no rock star. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the younger of the two brothers involved in the Boston marathon bombing, is accused of killing three people and wounding hundreds.

Rolling Stone cover pic

Outrage over the cover choice, including a #BoycottRollingStone Twitter trend and an open letter from Boston Mayor Thomas Menino has led many retailers to announce that they will not carry the issue on newsstands. However, some are also jumping to Rolling Stone’s defense, calling the image “smart, unnerving journalism.”

Rolling Stone is no stranger to covering issues more serious than the latest True Blood scoop. No one denies that the magazine engages in its share of serious journalism. On the other hand, to the average American, Rolling Stone conjures up more visions of half-naked celebrities than reports on the economy.

Despite the controversy over the cover, the article itself is a fascinating read. Nicknamed “Jahar,” Tsarnaev has a story far from the usual terrorist narrative. He was, by all appearances, a typical American boy born to an immigrant family. This was no “I always knew there was something off about him” scenario.

The cover drives home that point, but it also enters the other extreme. The Tsarnaev photo looks like he waltzed into a studio and had an hour-long photo shoot for the perfect look. Tsarnaev’s photo is styled like those of the many stars who have graced the magazine’s cover. Here, Tsarnaev, too, is famous. He looks like a celebrity. Rolling Stone’s article paints an in-depth portrait of Tsarnaev, a worthy feat of journalism, but its cover only serves to glamorize the so-called “monster.”

What do you think of Rolling Stone’s cover choice? Post a comment so we can start talking.


Serena Yin graduated with a degree in English from Johns Hopkins University in 2013. She is joining the Washington Reading Corps to promote literacy in local schools. A New England native, she loves ballet, beaches, and hamburgers. When she’s not on the hunt for the nearest Starbucks, she’s working on realizing her lifelong dream of meeting J.K. Rowling.