Dead ringer for Mr Tumnus, the faun in the original chronicle of Narnia, first seen carrying parcels and an umbrella through the snow covered forest. But this man first came to public attention amidst the blood and gore of the bombed Boston marathon. He is Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the younger of two brother bombers (Tamerlan the elder was killed in a shoot-out with Boston police) whose face – cupid lips and curly hair – currently adorns the front cover of Rolling Stone.
‘Looking like the cover of a 20 dollar magazine….’
A kind and gentle face, apparently. The kind of pristine pretty boy face that teen girls like to imagine atop the mangled body of a motorbike casualty.
‘You get the picture? Yes, we do.’
Although the same photograph of Dzhokhar had already been used by the New York Times, Rolling Stone’s cover shot has been singled out for ‘glamorising terrorism’. Hardly the intention of investigative reporter Janet Reitman. She contrasts this hardly-more-than-a-boy with the cold killer he-turned-out-to-be, and tries to account for the transformation.
If Reitman is in the wrong for writing this feature, then so was Truman Capote; so too is almost every instance of long form journalism on cold blooded killing. Crime reporting is only acceptable if it trains a laser on the killer’s forehead (like the Boston police pics leaked in response to the cuddly cover shot). Surely not. But Rolling Stone does get it badly wrong by saying that Dzhokhar ‘fell into Radical Islam’ because he was ‘betrayed by his family’. Betrayed by rock’n’roll, more like.
Rock’n’roll: the mythology which allows disaffected young men to ‘Paint It Black’. The platform for playing at ultra-violet Alex and his Droogs a la Andrew Loog Oldham-era Rolling Stones. The space to be The Outsider, up to and including ‘Killing an Arab’ (The Cure carrying on like Albert Camus).
So come on all you teenage Raskolnikovs, play air guitar like it’s a Kalashnikov and sing along with Megadeth.
Rock’n’roll was supposed to supply Dzhokhar with all the alienation he could identify with. But in recent years it has failed to keep up with the demand for disaffection. The young people of today have been obliged to look further afield, posing an additional problem for Dzhokhar. When he eventually arrived at Islam as a suitable destination – reassuringly distant from both the American Way and the stale spirit of the ‘counterculture’, he found that some of his mainstream American contemporaries had already colonised it by converting to the Koran. What should a poor Chechen boy do but conjure up a bespoke version of ‘jihad’ beyond the comfort zone of his High School classmates?
In fact, there’s a great deal he could have done differently; conversely, he should have done a great deal less. If only he had been content to continue reciting the bloody rhetoric – singing the songs, rather than attempting to implement them. The point about rock’n’roll aka it’s-only-rock’n’roll is that you can talk the talk without having to walk the walk; unfortunately, Dzhokhar’s homebaked mythology distinguished itself by failing to distinguish between myth and reality.
But if rock’n’roll hadn’t failed to satisfy his theatrical desires, he might never have felt the need to make this category error.