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Thursday, July 18, 2013

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ROLLING STONE COVER: DISGRACEFUL OR GENIUS?

This past week and a half has been chock full of controversial topics. From Orson Scott Card to the Zimmerman trial to the case of Marissa Alexander who received a 20 year sentence to the upcoming August 2013 cover of Rolling Stone magazine. It’s been interesting, and very thought-provoking, engaging in debates about these issues amongst family and friends. Quite frankly I’ve loved it. It’s been a long time since I’ve even bothered voicing much opinion on controversial topics, and long-time readers know I seem to avoid them on my blog — contrary to my intentions.

Granted, the controversial pieces I wish to cover deal more with myself in my day-to-day. After discussing some of the above topics, though, I’ve been curious if I could present the same subject matter here and discuss them with fellow bloggers/followers/anyone really. Today (as the title says) the Rolling Stone cover will be highlighted.

All interactions have been non-hostile and I wish for that to continue here. Sharing opinions/opposing points of view is both welcomed and encouraged, as long as being respectful during discussion/debate. Any inflammatory remarks made against another poster/commenter deemed unsuitable (is there any other kind?) is subject to being removed, and it’s owner blocked.

“I want a nice, clean ‘fight’ here!”

Oh, and I’ve never really delved into anything like this — I’m no journalist, just a lowly blogger — so let’s hope I’m semi-coherent and don’t botch shit up too badly.

I Don’t Understand

I would have likely been oblivious to this current controversial topic (unless highlighted in the News on Monday when I actually watch TV, or at the gym) if I hadn’t come across a friend’s post on Facebook yesterday. Basically, he was stating he wasn’t sure why everyone was so up-in-arms about the upcoming cover of Rolling Stone magazine, which was revealed Wednesday.

In case you aren’t familiar, and quite possibly live in a reclusive bubble much like myself, this is the cover in question:
Source: www.rollingstone.com

So there it is.

Within the magazine is an article based on journalist Janet Reitman’s two month long inquiry into the surviving [alleged] Boston Bomber’s life; what caused this young man to spiral down a dark path that resulted in the horrific event on April 15, 2013, and the manhunt that followed, that gripped the world. There are supposed interviews bringing to light new “revelations about “Jahar’s” life leading up to said events, some of which are highlighted in that link.

Some say the cover tries to humanize him, forcing us to understand that this individual isn’t so different from you or I; to make us think.

Many supporters of the decision made by Rolling Stone (also defending themselves, naturally) cite the hard-hitting journalistic articles the magazine has featured throughout the years, and claim it’s retained much of it’s integrity in the articles it provides outside — but not excluding — the Entertainment genre.

The main article referenced over and over is one in which Gen. Stanley McChrystal comments about President Obama lead to his resignation.

Another point made is a cover back in 1970 that featured Charles Manson. That issue featured an interview with Manson and the piece resulted in Rolling Stone receiving not only an award, but incredible sales.

Achievement Unlocked

Discussing some of the points made about the various articles seemed the simplest area to begin. This is because I didn’t come across many who had any issue with the article specifically. In fact, many opposing Rolling Stone’s decision are greatly interested in the article they are printing.

I disregard childish statements about Rolling Stone not being relevant, and while I haven’t read them in fifteen years I’m able to accept and understand that they do print some very interesting, important articles (this one being no exception). Having said that, however, I can’t help but imagine the majority of people subscribe to/invest in Rolling Stone for their contributions highlighting the music industry, rock stars, various celebrities, and entertainment.

This leads to the cover, which is the true point of contention.

I’ve personally always viewed Rolling Stone as a rock star/celeb magazine. It was what drew me to their publication to begin with. Over time they have added to the variety of articles they print — that much is abundantly clear — but it’s always seemed the cover was a coveted/idolized spot.

Below is a response [of mine] on the matter:
"How could people *not* be understanding on some level why some people may be upset that a magazine they invest time/money in that is predominantly entertainment based, with a sensationalized cover slot coveted by those in the entertainment business — possibly even viewing it as a milestone/great achievement — opts to feature a terrorist."
I always thought: You make the cover of Rolling Stone, you’ve made it. It was an honor and a privilege to grace the cover of their magazine. From when I’ve read that still seems to be the sentiment today.

So herein lays the problem people have, believing they are sensationalizing a terrorist by having him on the cover. Casting aside comments made about what picture was chosen, I feel it does hold some weight in argument as I explained in the above quote. Many argue they give the terrorist a “rock star” treatment and “glam” him up (even arguments are made the picture — used in various publications already — is photoshopped some). That is it disgraceful to have him featured on the cover.

(On point of the photo being used elsewhere with no outcry, I feel this is possibly because the picture has mainly been featured in very News specific related publications)

As for belief that the cover photo chosen was meant to jar us and make us think, making him seem relatable? More “normal”?

I kind of feel that the word use of “Monster” contradicts that belief. It’s kind of a bipolarish statement. The headline almost seems to want to tug on your senses/heartstrings and make you feel something for the individual, understand he wasn’t born a terrorist and was no different from you and I, but then “Monster” is what you end with.

With the statement, it’s hard [for me] to relate to him in any way, because you are slapped in the face that he is, nonetheless, a Monster. Not saying Rolling Stone, or the journalist, want you to identify/relate to Jahar, because I truly don’t know, but this is in regards to the statements/claims of other people. I don’t know... just my thoughts I guess.

What a Difference a Day Makes (or 14600 of them, give or take)

In discussion about Charles Manson being on the cover back in 1970? I can’t help but think: That was 40 years ago. I hypothesized that it was very possible that many people were upset that he was on the cover of Rolling Stone, but back then it was much easier to ignore/contain. I mean, I can’t imagine everyone was enthralled by it. That would be pretty naive.

The world is a different place compared to what it was 40 years ago. In many ways, but definitely on a technological front. With technology, everyone is more “connected” than ever with one another. Outcries 40 years ago couldn’t travel through social media, email, text, etc with the click of a few buttons. It’s simply a different ballgame when it comes to being able to voice public opinion (whether for the betterment of mankind or otherwise). If this was capable 40 years ago, I’d almost guarantee there would be a strong likelihood of outrage over Manson being featured on their cover.

But that was then, and this is now.

Public outcry, and boycotting can be effective. In an unrelated (yet related) example: Microsoft reversed its policies with its next gen gaming system the Xbox One. These boycotting tactics also heavily influenced some of Sony’s choices prior to Microsoft’s. This wasn’t a little decision to make either. It forced them [Microsoft] to completely refocus how important aspects of their business plan/model would be handled moving forward.

While this may work in some circumstances, will it for those opposed to Rolling Stone’s choice?

Currently, retailers have joined the boycott. Among them: CVS and Walgreens drugstore chains. Will this possibly tip the scales, forcing Rolling Stone to reverse their decision, especially if more prominent retailers join in the boycott?

Update (7/18/13)/(1/19/13): 7-Eleven, Rite Aid, and Kmart / Cumberland Farms, Stop & Shop, Roche Bros., Shaws Star Markets, Tedeschi, Wegans, and Tops added to list of retailers boycotting the RS issue.

Bad Publicity is Good Publicity

Edit (7/18/13): I was unaware of the magazine distribution and didn't know the issue came out Friday. This pretty much renders the possibility of a cover change moot. :-(

Could the article be ran without the specific cover photo of Tsarnaev? Surely. The same holds true with Manson back in 1970. Certainly the award(s) they received were based on the article provided and not their cover choice. At least I’d hope so.

The question is: Will they sell/Would they have sold as many copies?

Very possibly not.

This is where I feel the “genius” comes into play. They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, and by all accounts that appears to be true. So, Rolling Stone has come out... guns blazing, so to speak... with a controversial cover that coincides with an article within. Positioned itself in the spotlight and — for better or for worse — have made people pay attention; to become engaged, become curious, to debate.

And all of this will undoubtedly lead to sales.

Some posit it’s all just a marketing scheme, and by all rights it kind of is. Cover choice is a selective process. You want it to somehow draw people in, draw attention to itself, to make consumers want it. Sometimes simply the shock value, and surrounding controversy, are more than enough to elicit one’s hard-earned cash.

I feel that Rolling Stone wins, regardless of the outcome of the outrage/boycott.

They are in a position to change their minds — “Hey, we hear you loud and clear. We listen, we understand, and we are changing the cover” — and the desired effect has already been established. A reversal may even greatly multiply that effect.

Hook, line, and sinker...

I may not buy the August 2013 issue of Rolling Stone, but I am hoping to have the chance to read the article within.

Aren’t you?

Update (7/19/13): Janet Reitman's article "Jahar's World" released online can be read HERE


What are your thoughts/feelings about Rolling Stone’s cover selection for their upcoming issue? Any thoughts on some of the points made? Do you think Rolling Stone may change the issue’s cover if the boycott continues to grow? Are you planning on buying the issue and/or reading the article being printed?

Thanks for visiting and reading! Hopefully I didn’t butcher it too much ;-) Keep it civil!

15 comments:

  1. I would be shocked if they changed the cover. They knew going in it was going to be controversial and make people very angry. They wanted it to be. As you say, no such thing as bad publicity. Even if you, Jak, didn't buy it, you are spreading the word about it, more people are hearing the name of the magazine, and being reminded that Rolling Stone still exists. People may not buy this issue, but they'll buy the next. (By the way, if it weren't for your post, I wouldn't even know there was a controversial cover. Seems I'm living under a rock.)

    Every time a tragedy happens, be it a school shooting or terrorist attack, the media go into every single detail, for days and days. This behavior only encourages other people to do the same types of shootings and bombings. They are essentially turned into stars. They are famous. It isn't just Rolling Stone doing it, though they have taken it farther by putting his glamour-shot on the cover.
    If we want the media/magazines to stop doing these things (like controversial covers), we have to give them the only thing that will stop them. Indifference. Don't talk about it. If we give them the reaction they were looking for, we are encouraging them to do it more. If we don't react, they'll stop doing it. I'm thinking the chances of everyone agreeing are slim to none.

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    1. Yeah, I actually hadn't known when the issue was coming out (which is lame of me since it would have been easily researched - it no mentioned a dozen times in the articles I was reading), so that pretty much would be impossible. I agree, naturally, that they knew what the controversy/reaction would be, and I think used that to bulk up sales/notice.

      Surprisingly, many people were (are still?) unaware, and honestly I wouldn't have been if not for FB. I don't think people reading this/hearing of it will necessarily drive them to buy RS after this article if they haven't already been following along already. It may, however, peak interest for them to actually buy that one issue.

      I did update, posting the link to the article online, though so technically there wouldn't be a need to buy the issue (yet to read the article myself).

      Media lives off tragedy it seems. I usually avoid most of it when I can, and on some level it may be true it can "inspire/encourage" I think it's also important to not "hide" it either. I'm way more understanding of news specific publishers printing photos in their magazines/newspapers and the like than RS (just given the history of what the cover spot has represented).

      I disagree about not talking about it, though :( Talking can help work through opinions, emotions, understanding, etc. Also: If there wasn't an outcry, for example, retailers may have just ignored it and sold the issue rather than pulling them/refusing to sell the issue. Sadly, even those choices can sometimes revolve around the almighty buck. But, all depending, it "may" change the likelihood of it happening again. Who knows.

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  2. To be honest, I'm on the side of "why the outcry". I'm more bothered by the line under the picture, "How a promising, polular student was failed..." poor guy *insert sarcasm here* . Seriously, there are tons of pople who are "failed" by their families and still don't blow up people at a sports event. While I don't consider him a "monster" (in my opinion there is no comparison between a delusional kid and a seriously psychotic killer like Manson). He needs help, and yes, punishment. What he also needs is a fair trial and maybe help to be re-integrated in society one day. The argument that he is getting a rock star treatment by being put on the cover has a point, in my opinion, but then again, there are more important things in life to worry about, like affordable health care for everyone and fixing education. But again, the media is drawing the attention away from these issues by focussing the public on secondary matters.

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    1. Hmm, I've yet to read the article yet, though I posted the link above now. Yeah, I'm not sure how the piece will try to present his past, but like it said I believe it is more of a "normal kid" failed in some fashion and eventual downfall into terrorism. Like - it can happen to any of us, he was just a normal kid like any other (which I agree with... we aren't born "evil" - debatable in some sects).

      And on point to your comment, I think there are plenty of kids not "failed" by family who end up being incredibly bad/violent.

      Indeed he needs help, but that odds (well given if he is found guilt of one murder he may be sentenced to death I think?) that he would be allowed to re-integrated into society (and accepted) is highly unlikely. That would be a more... eh... I don't know the word, but almost utopian. A more perfect/forgiving world where regardless of the act, there is the opportunity to reform and be accepted.

      There are a mass majority of issues that need to be addressed (and always have), but I believe focus can be evenly spread between various issues, which hold varying degrees of importance per individual.

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  3. I'm under a rock too, and had no idea that the cover existed or that there was controversy.

    But I believe the young man in question would be classified as a 'hot topic' and with the theory that a common enemy unites people, giving him some form of 'celebrity' will allow the public to amass their forces even more, turning them against him, mob-like.

    And of course, this will all have the delicious advantage of lining the pockets of the CEO of the magazine.

    The biopsy of his life, if you will, tells us precisely where we (the mindless consumer) are to direct our views.

    Family failings leave us vulnerable. Radical Islam can get to the vulnerable. Radical Islam makes you a Monster.

    I've no idea as to the content of the article, but that's what I've taken from the cover. It's scare-mongering, pure and simple. It's divisive, it promotes prejudice and propagates fear. And it sucks.

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    1. Well he is a "hot topic" of sorts being it was only a few months ago since the bombing, but there wouldn't be more "hate" generated against him than there already is from seeing him on the cover of RS, though I suppose it could be argue it may remind/resurge those hurt feelings and cause negativity/stress/etc (especially for victims and/or those closely involved).

      The controversy definitely drums up the attention and in turn leads to sales, though if more people boycott it could lead to interesting developments, because RS has investors/advertisers that may be unappreciative as well.

      Yeah, like Stephanie said above, plenty of "failed" children don't go down this route and so I hope the article doesn't state that. The cover, however, I could see being taken that way. I'm not very knowledgeable with RI movements, but I'd imaging like many cults/movements/etc the vulnerability of others is definitely a target.

      You can check out the article if ever wanting to read it. The link is posted at the end of the blog entry.

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    2. I don't think I care enough to boost their 'read' stats, to be quite honest.

      They've capitalised on an awful situation and in multifariously offensive ways. I think they were misguided and rather jeuvenile in doing so, but there are those who will go for it and hold this kid up as the poster child for All That Is Wrong, either with RI or broken homes or whatever fits their agenda.

      I find it all highly distasteful.

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  4. I so did not know about this...I am more concerned about the difference in sentencing between zimmermann and marissa alexander.

    but for what it's worth I don't think I would by the magazine not so much because of the picture but because of the headlines they used. It seems like a cheap tactic to get sales...

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    1. Well, different cases, and a lot of people were going crazy over an article posted about Alexander. Being it's been a few years, though, there were a handful or articles/interviews since, which gave [supposedly] a clearer understanding of the case. I was actually going to originally make a post about that, but thought Orson Scott Card, and then this cover controversy erupted and was fresh in my mind.

      Sale are their interest, possibly first and foremost, and so I am hoping it;s a very enlightening/well-done article.

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  5. Rolling Stone isn't Time Magazine. As you mentioned, their wheelhouse is entertainment news, primarily that of the music industry. For them to make this choice is sensationalism and a marketing tactic, pure and simple.

    Its for that reason alone that its a slap in the face: to the people that lost family and friends. To the people that were horrifically and permanently injured. To the emergency responders and medical personnel that dealt with the aftermath. To the many hours that law enforcement personnel, local, state, and federal, spent investigating and tracking down these terrorists. And to all the thousands of unnamed people that had their lives turned upside down because of the actions of two people.

    My contempt is for Rolling Stone Magazine for using this tragedy to hike flagging sales figures and crying "Look At Me!" to the public. What once stood as the consummate source of music news, has fallen in my esteem to levels similar to that of a supermarket tabloid.

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    1. I agree, they are predominantly entertainment base, regardless of some actual world-relevant journalism sprinkled throughout. It was very possibly done for sake of controversy in hopes to increase attention/sales.

      A senior editor tweeted some comment and quickly deleted it (as they seem prone to do for PR control), but seems they aren't handling it in the best way either. Technically, they have the right to "freedom of speech" much like everyone else does along with "freedom of choice" so if people/retailers want to boycott, so be it.

      I think to some degree individual understanding/recognition may play a large part in how affected victims/anyone caring about the issue feel about the cover. If no idea (though easily found) what RS is, it may be no big deal, given the photo/headline would be more accepted on a strict News based publication like Time. Given how long RS has been around, though, most know of them and what being on the cover has generally represented over the last few decades. So if they want to shift towards that more News based journalism with those subjects on the cover, I'd think they will have to focus on doing that more and more. If not, I feel it promotes the belief that is was mainly done for controversy/attention/sales.

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  6. I guess I live under a rock as well as I had no idea about this cover. I'm not sure I even have an opinion on it...do I blame a magazine for wanting to create buzz and sensationalism and sell more magazines? No. Do I fully agree with their description? Probably not. It does make me want to read the article though, so perhaps they did their job, huh? Great writing, Jak!

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    1. It's still kind of up in the air just how much subscribers/readers they lost compared to what they gained. With some celebrities joining the boycott I thought it could create deeper impact if advertisers (where their main source of money would come from) are targeted.

      Thank you very much for taking the time to read, Kristi!

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  7. I feel torn about this one. I definitely agree that they are making him look like some sort of rock God on the cover and my first reaction when I saw it was to grimace. But then on the other hand, it's not that much different than what the media does in general when someone kills people...it almost becomes obsession. And, like you said, when there is a huge outcry over something like this, it only serves to gain free advertising for them. I would never have known what was on the cover of Rolling Stone, because I never, ever read it, but seeing it on the news, it made me wonder about the article. Lots and lots of free publicity.

    You did a great job with this controversial topic!

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    1. I think it's more along lines of it not being specifically a News based publication. I do agree, however, the media does clamor around anything that will bring them ratings (unfortunately that seems more negative based, than positive and sadly the "obsession" part locks many in like a car crash scenario).

      The entire thing is just more advertising, but we will see how long the boycott lasts. Many think it will die out fast, which is likely usually the case. Like all things, it just depends on who is involved and just how dedicated (and how far) they are willing to try to go. Even then nothing may be affected.

      The article, thankfully, is online and so you can avoid actually spending money on the specific issue it appears in. I'd imagine that is a route many will take/took. If those boycotting deem the article schlock, though, it could get worse. At least on their end.

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