Is it just my flawed impression, or are Americans increasingly less supportive of free speech, free thought, and artistic expression? If so, that is a worrisome development for our democracy and its culture, and if so, yes, I believe the willingness of our government and its leaders to maneuver around the Bill of Rights in “ends justify the means” conduct has fueled the trend.
Now Rolling Stone is the target. The Sixties magazine icon had the nerve to place Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaevon its latest edition’s cover, looking like a male model, and, we hear, the families of the victims are outraged and their communities prefer their sensibilities over liberty. Jumping on the bandwagon, retailers have decided to make all publications afraid to challenge its readers by announcing that they won’t sell the issue in Boston, and there are hints of an advertiser boycott.
Unfair, un-American, dangerous and silly.
What is Rolling Stone’s supposed offense? Publishing a cover that inflames the raw emotions of the victims of a tragedy is the charge. Once again, the sensitivities of the few are supposed to restrict communications to the many. No. We should not have to censor our speech and expression out of terror that someone, somewhere, will be upset by what we express. The magazine felt it had to justify its editorial decision, but it did not. A profile of a young American terrorist is legitimate journalism, and the fact that he can look like a Tiger Beat heartthrob makes vivid points: monsters don’t always look like monsters, and the Boston bomber could be the boy next door.
Another offense is supposedly the irresponsible message the cover and feature story sends. “If they want to become famous, kill somebody,” Northeastern University criminologist Jack Levin told MyFoxBoston.com. Wow…you have to be a criminologist to detect that fact of life, do you? This isn’t an irresponsible message; this is true; everybody knows it, and has for a long, long time. I don’t recall anyone boycotting Stephen Sondheim musicals or Barbra Streisand for singing his songs in the wake of his show “Assassins,” which was about how, hmmmm, if you want to become famous, kill the President. That’s true too. Time and Life were never boycotted for putting Lee Harvey Oswald on the cover, and everyone in the United States was a victim of his crime.
Rolling Stone has done nothing wrong, but its critics and boycotters are doing something terribly wrong. They are assisting in the slow-motion strangling of freedom of expression, speech and the press.