Rolling Stone Cover: The Dark Side of the Media Moon


The August 1 issue of Rolling Stone magazine will feature Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the two accused Boston Marathon bombers. The story inside is about him.

The controversial cover -- where the doe-eyed Chechen-American stares longingly into the camera like the front man of the latest It-Band?

The cover outside is about you. And me. Us.

On its immediate surface, the cover seems to glamorize a monster.

Part of me wants to cut the staff at Rolling Stone some slack because the easy sensationalism seems too base for me.

So beyond the shock value, what else is this cover saying? And more importantly, how is it saying it?

Regardless of the Rolling Stone's intent, I don't see this cover as solely journalistic. To say this is journalism masquerading as art would be a disservice to its visionary. This is journalism that is operating at a level so high that it has become art. Subversive art, in fact.

This cover is about Warhol's now-infamous and cliché 15 minutes of fame. This cover is about the Kult of Kardashian. This cover is about TMZ.

It's about celebrity and fame and who can get it and who gains from it.

Ultimately, it's a dark art that's illuminating the dark side of the media moon: the hypocrisy of its audience.

Every day, we buy rags of lies at the grocery stores or watch "news" shows that stalk celebrities (who some times want to be stalked).

Weekly, millions of us tune in to see talent-less sisters do nothing, the prettiest sister auditioning for her stardom through a sex tape.

Every fall Sunday, tens of millions of us watch and attend NFL games, where they wear the jerseys of and cheer for dog killers, wife and girlfriend abusers, drug traffickers, and murderers.

On weekends, we attend the concerts of junkies and watch movies by pedophiles.

The cover reminds me of the title of Girl Talk's fourth album Feed the Animals, where any song is eligible to be consumed, combined, or fed out as long as it satiates the crowd. (In fact, when I first saw the Rolling Stone cover, I actually thought it was a Photoshop mashup).

And its insatiable hunger leads me back to Kate Durbin's 2009 poetry collection The Ravenous Audience, which highlights and critiques the willing cannibalization of women, particularly celebrity women, by Hollywood.

At its core, the cover challenges our heroes, our morals and ethics, and best/worst of all, our mercurial tolerance levels.

Yes, the cover is premature, offensive, and "wrong."

But it is also thought-provoking, relevant, and brilliant in its conceit.

That's what art does.

Except this piece of conceptual art did something new and daring: It escaped the ghetto of the museum circuit, infiltrated the mainstream media, and found (or created) an audience of millions.

It is the first truly Viral Work of Art.

And for that, I believe this Rolling Stone cover is the first important piece of art of the 21st century.

One we all -- willingly or not -- own and are responsible for. Like the subject of its story.