Rolling Stone put Dzhokhar Tsarnev (aka the Boston bomber) on the cover of the magazine. They used the picture most commonly associated with Tsarnev. The howls of outrage began immediately.
How dare they "glamorize" Tsarnev, and make him look like a teen idol? That this picture has been associated with him from the beginning is apparently irrelevant. There has been much wailing, moaning, gnashing of teeth, threatening boycotts, etc. We aren't adult enough to have the conversation about what went wrong in this kid's life that he turned into a terrorist. We just want to yell about a magazine cover.
Why? Because we're a nation of idiots, who apparently need to have the media sanitize images for our protection. (Which is why the foreign versions of many US magazines run different covers overseas.) We can't handle reality - and the reality is that the kid looked like a teen idol. We want our monsters to look like monsters.
Timothy McVeigh might not have looked monsterly enough, so a picture of him looking angry was chosen for this cover. So we didn't miss the point, THE FACE OF TERROR was put on the cover in big letters. Whew. No way to miss that point.
Or the next one. Just in case, they stamped EXECUTION ON HOLD across his face. Hard to miss.
Teenagers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 13 people and injured 24 others when they shot up the school in Littleton, CO. They looked like high school kids, so as a counterbalance, the cover included pictures of all of the dead victims.
We want our monsters to have cloven hooves and horns, so that we can recognize them when we see them. At the same time, we all know that isn't the way it works.
We have all known someone in our community who beats up their wife, or molests kids - people who look perfectly normal.
The boyfriend who hit me so hard he almost broke my jaw back in the early 1980's looked like an average guy. The guy who stalked me for 10 years and sent me nasty, threatening letters was a popular person in the community, beloved by many.
They didn't have swastikas carved on their foreheads, like Charlie Manson. They fit in. They were innocuous. And that is where the REAL terror comes in. Abusers, rapists, and killers walk among us. We can't tell who they are by looking at them. The most ordinary looking people are capable of great evil. Scary? You bet your ass.
We read stories about the guy who suddenly snaps and kills his wife and then himself. We can't see it coming. Just as we can't see the monsters coming. Instead of acknowledging that, it seems we'd rather have the media manipulate us into thinking that we can tell. That monsters DO have a certain look about them.
Now here's a guy who is responsible for thousands of deaths in El Salvador. He signed off on selling weapons to Iran in exchange for the release of US hostages held in Iran. The profit generated from the secret sale of those weapons was used to secretly fund the Nicaraguan Contras, whose death squads were responsible for over 70,000 civilian deaths and too many rapes to count. Yet his smiling face is presented to us (even now, long after his death) as the saintly face of American democracy. His face scares me far more than Tsarnev's ever could.
We want to be manipulated by the media. It's easier that way.