The cover of the August edition of Rolling Stone mag features Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of Boston’s bombers. People are furious. At first sight, that hysteria could be reasonably understood. Given the suffering he allegedly caused, people might not want him to have protagonism (though they like reading about crimes in the newspaper and watch crime TV shows all the time), or is it something else? Might it be that the real problem is that he actually looks familiar, and beautiful, destroying people’s image of what a non-american monster looks like? And does it add that the story told by Janet Reitman gives it a too human dimension, spoiling his condition of being exclusively located in realm of public imagery?
This is a typical problem of what Lacan would call the split-subject, regarding the place of the subject and that of the image plane. It is extremely complex and I’m not even going to try to pretend fully understand the impact of this particular history, since American society is too layered. But let me try, by going thru the news, to draw some parallels between what journalists and bloggers have been saying and how I locate this within Lacan’s moments of perception.
In the New republic Mag, John Judis writtes a short article (with a terrorism TAG?) explaining why he is boycotting those who are boycotting this Rolling Stone edition. He attributes the problem to Tsarnaev looking “exotically attractive”. Another one of New Republic’s writer, Delphine Rodrik, says the problem is his “bedroom eyes” and then goes on to call him an “evildoer” and locating him side by side with Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Charles Masson, etc. What these writers are doing, when they choose to pretend to talk about the subject, is accentuating the void of critical and acute points of view. They too are alienated from the subject. They to are located in the place where they became part of the image.
Tyler Coates, from Flavorwire, writes: But at the end of the day, it’s Reitman’s piece that is the important journalistic artifact, and one that’s now likely to be eclipsed by the controversial cover. This is the fault of Rolling Stone‘s editors, who assumed their cover line calling Dzhokhar Tsarnaev a “monster” would be enough to avoid the accusations that the image sexualized or glamorized him. But more importantly, it’s our fault — the audience — for falling into the trap so obviously set for us: rather than taking time and thinking critically about the images we are delivered on a mass scale, we’ve accepted that a knee-jerky, short-form response is more suitable and more powerful. Fortunately denoting some sort of self-consciousness, but this isn’t the bottom layer.
The main thing, as I understand it, is that we perceive life through the position of the observer but the place of the observer coincides with that of the image, so we are “made real” through the eyes of another, who reflects back at us. Because it is easy to displace ourselves from the demands of being conscious of this position, we then react a lot more that we should. We react as if we were automatons and had no will, no critical thought, no whit. We react instead of realizing that the problem of the image in front of us is our own problem with the transference going own between the real and the imaginary.
Adam Gabatt, from the Guardian, quotes Dan Kennedy, professor of journalism: “It works because of cognitive dissonance. We see him looking rather angelic on the cover, and just about every picture we’ve seen of him he looks angelic, that apparently is how he looked,” he told the Guardian. And meanwhile we see the cover type: ‘The bomber. A monster’. So that works well as a really dissonant juxtaposition.“ To my knowledge this could help understand why people get so heated over this, since what keeps the subject as a hole is the realm of signifiers and significants, and a lot of people act as if they were impaired, as the only thing they could take away from this is that Rolling Stone mag would be equating Tsarnaev with a rock start…