Thursday, July 18, 2013

On the cover of Rolling Stone

This is the cover of the new Rolling Stone - it's quite controversial:

Yes, to the shock of America, Rolling Stone are running a cover that isn't of a topless female celebrity holding a hat over her tits. Americans are struggling to understand this deviation from house sty...

Oh, hang on. Apparently that isn't the problem. Thinkprogress' Judd Legum tries to boil down what the problem is here:

Oh, yes. It's a head-and-shoulders shot on the cover of the magazine, and they had a head-and-shoulders shot of Jim Morrison about three thousand years ago, so it's clear that what they're trying to do there is turn one into the other.

It couldn't just be that they've put a photo of the subject of their cover story on the, erm, front cover, could it?

The complaints seem to fall into two large clumps, on a sliding scale of ill-informedness.

The first is a suggestion that RS is trying to make Dzhokhar Tsarnaev into some sort of rock star, because they've put him on the cover of a rock magazine, and what else can it mean other than 'Tsarnaev is a rock star'.

The magazine sighs, and tries to explain that while people might think RS is a rock magazine, it really isn't:
The cover story we are publishing this week falls within the traditions of journalism and Rolling Stone’s long-standing commitment to serious and thoughtful coverage of the most important political and cultural issues of our day.
I think that's quite mild, really. After all, Rolling Stone is arguably at its worse when it talk about music, lurching between Tom Waits and Janet Jackson (providing she's got her top off).

It makes you wonder what the complainants think PJ O'Rourke has been filing all these years - do they think he was reviewing Green Day gigs and asking Bonnie Rait about her fitness regime? Do they assume that Hunter S Thompson's main order of business was joining Sting in the studio?

The second group seem at least vaguely aware that the title covers current affairs but, in the style of the 'he's looking like Jim Morrison' observation, that it's wrong to have an accused murderer on the cover, especially when he looks so bloody handsome.

America, it seems, wants its monsters to look like monsters (except the ones out of Monsters Inc). How dare Rolling Stone suggest there might be a more nuanced position; that the man accused of bringing death and misery to so many could look like the sort of boy you'd hope your daughter would take to the prom?

Bizarrely, CVS and a grocery chain have even gone to the lengths of pulling the magazine from their shelves. They happily sold copies of Time with Osama on the front; they stocked and shipped back Newsweeks with Bin Laden covers. I'd love to see CVS explain what policy it is that they're invoking here.

The point being missed in the all the squawking is that the cover is the story - that to his friends, he was just the sort of kid who would make a great prom date:
Someone mentions one of the surveillance videos of Jahar, which shows him impassively watching as people begin to run in response to the blast. "I mean, that's just the face I'd always see chilling, talking, smoking," says Jackson. He wishes­ Jahar had looked panicked. "At least then I'd be able to say, 'OK, something happened.' But . . . nothing."
Rolling Stone has published a thoughtful article about not judging something by the cover. It's a pity a lot of people won't get to read it, because they're so quick to do just that.


2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Rolling Stone was a hugely successful pop culture magazine, but that has never been enough for Jann Wenner, who has been trying for 30 years to make Rolling Stone into a respected news magazine. The result being that RS is no longer relevant as either.

If Rolling Stone remembered their core competency and their once significant role in pop culture, they would remember that their cover once carried tremendous cache. Appearing on the cover meant you made it - you had arrived. Young musicians dreamed of appearing on the cover. Kids celebrated when their favorite artists appeared on the cover. Appearing on the cover was a special honor in the music world. We tore off the covers and hung them on our bedroom walls (something kids never did with Time magazine or Newsweek). Songs were written about it. Most magazines would *kill* to have a cover as celebrated as "the cover of the Rolling Stone".

But apparently, the editors of Rolling Stone don't remember that their cover once carried special cultural significance. They don't even understand the backlash. Maybe that's why I haven't picked up a copy of RS in 15 years.

simon hayes budgen said...

Sorry, Anonymous, but you're wrong.

Sure, Rolling Stone has always done music covers. But it's never been exclusively so - the American Revolution cover of 1969; Abbie Hoffman; Tricia Nixon (TRICIA NIXON!); a field investigator from the drugs squad; Charles Manson; "the art of sensual massage"; George McGovern; "Jesus Freaks"... I could carry on listing the current affairs covers - nearly all of which were for more interesting stories than the 'here's another one on the Rolling Stones' music ones.

Post a Comment

As a general rule, posts will only be deleted if they reek of spam.