The Boston Bomber Rolling Stone Cover: An Overreaction?

So a couple of days ago, I attended the Council of PR Firms’ Internfest event, where one of the presenters marked some trends he’s noticed in marketing. One of them was consumer sensitivity, which I took to mean that people, when presented with material that could be even slightly provocative, will react very strongly, usually in a negative manner.

There is no better case study right now than the new Rolling Stone cover on newsstands this week, featuring Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving suspect of the Boston Marathon bombings.

The magazine, for a feature story that I will certainly be reading on my iPad over the weekend, used a self-portrait of Tsarnaev. Some media have noted his shaggy hair and goatee, insinuating that the magazine placed the bombing suspect on the same level as a brooding rock star.

As you would probably expect, the cover has incited outrage and demands for boycotts. Some retailers have heard the call: CVS, Kmart, Walgreens, and more are refusing to sell the magazine with the bomber on the cover.

The obvious question here, is it really in bad taste, and are people overreacting?

I don’t believe that RS was trying to offend anyone with their cover, or glorify him in any light. I think the point of using that selfie was to show the very real possibility of a seemingly normal teenager diving into a place so dark and twisted that it led him to commit a truly evil act. And I didn’t just make that up. It’s literally on the cover.

I think that this is a classic case of judging a book (or in this case, magazine) by its cover. It’s also a sign of how image-reliant we have become as a generation, that common sense and, worst of all, subtext falls to the wayside.

I placed a poll up, so please either vote or share your thoughts in the comments.

– B


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