Sunday, July 21, 2013

On the Cover of the Rolling Stone

Trey Smith

There is a big controversy over the Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's picture on the cover of the most recent edition of Rolling Stone magazine. The majority opinion is that the photo glamorizes Tsarnaev and is thus in very poor taste.

In all honesty, that's not what I see at all. I see a young man -- plain and simple. Maybe the editors' intent was to glamorize him, but I suspect there was a different motivation: they sought to humanize him.

If he is found guilty of the allegations against him, then I think few will question that he committed monstrous acts, but that doesn't make him a monster. He is a human being. That's what I saw on the cover: a human face.

We humans have a penchant for denying the humanity of people who commit heinous acts. Though in most aspects of their lives, they really aren't that different than we are, we like to picture them as one-eyed ogres who drink human blood for breakfast. By turning them into goblins, werewolves, demons or monsters, we seek to separate them innately from the rest of us.

If Tsarnaev is guilty of the crimes he is accused of, I'd say the chances are very strong that he committed them as a way of expressing an ideology or worldview. It certainly is not an ideology or worldview that I share or condone, but it is not like he was born with a gene that predisposed him to want to kill innocent people.

In this same vein, I vehemently oppose Barack Obama's drone program which, though it's not proper to say in polite company, kills scores of innocent people. He does this because of yet another ideology and worldview that I neither share nor condone. But I don't view Barack Obama as a monster. He is a human being just like me. I believe he has ordered monstrous acts to be committed, but these actions do not rob him of his inherent humanity.

While I am still a bit shell-shocked that a Florida jury let George Zimmerman walk free for killing an unarmed teenager guilty of nothing more than walking down a street, I do not consider Zimmerman to be a monster. I do think he is a coward and a racist, but cowards and racists are people too.

While I would never use the word, monster, to describe a person, the people in my mind who at least might come close to that label are really messed up people like Jeffrey Dahmer or sociopaths like Ted Bundy, Gary Ridgway and Richard Ramirez.  These individuals killed simply for the fun or thrill of it, which one might say is truly monstrous!

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