Thoughts on the Controversial Rolling Stone Cover
Rolling Stone magazine isn’t what it used to be.
But it tries to remain relevant. And it occasionally still is. Like this current month.
Forty years ago, Rolling Stone was the voice of a generation. Now, it’s yet another print journal living on what seems to be borrowed time, a musty antique with a dwindling readership in an age gone completely digital. It doesn’t help matters that the “brand” is stamped with an outdated masthead with a clear inference to classic rock.
No doubt, Rolling Stone makes a noble effort to stay germane in these changing musical and cultural times — and has actually made exemplary efforts to appeal to a much wider demographic than what was initially envisioned by its creators nearly 50 years ago when John Lennon made the very first cover.
The best illustration of this is Rolling Stone’s political and social commentary, which is consistently first rate. Ever since Hunter S. Thompson’s opiate-laced musings graced its pages decades ago, the monthly magazine has provided its readers with a steady pipeline of alternative perspectives of current events. Two of the very best writers doing this (anywhere) today are Matt Taibbi and Michael Hastings, whose full-length features appear regularly in Rolling Stone. Whenever something new appears by either of these two writers, that becomes mandatory reading.
True to its original mission as an edgy alternative to the mainstream, the magazine’s most recent issue features a cover story on the infamous Boston Marathon bomber/murderer. Excuse the cringe-worthy bon mot here, but the article has ignited a national firestorm. Apparently, many good citizens of the republic were so offended by the article — particularly throughout the New England region — that major retailers all across the United States are currently refusing to carry this month’s issue of Rolling Stone.
According to reports and corporate pronouncements, chain stores including CVS Pharmacy, Walgreens, Wal-Mart, Rite-Aid, 7-11, and K-Mart will not be selling this month’s issue.
Which begs the real question: Who in the fuck buys Rolling Stone at K-Mart?
But I digress.
Sorry, American retailers. You’ve already abandoned the moral high ground that once could have taken, and you abdicated those standards a very long time ago. Just take a look inside any of your stores. Once the consumer is able to finally locate the magazine rack — between rows and rows of cheap Chinese-made products stocking the shelves — the eyes are bludgeoned with a ceaseless parade of intellectual pornography in the form of periodicals like People, the National Inquirer, The Star, Us, Globe, and countless other publications which provide us with a pipeline of gossip on subjects that couldn’t possibly be more nauseatingly irrelevant.
How about this? If retailers really want to take the moral high road, then refuse to sell any publication with a Kardashian, a Lohan, or any of the other mind-numbing perversions of mass exploitation on the cover. Now, that’s offensive.
But you won’t. Because at the heart of it all, you are all pimps. You’re just the middlemen, the deliverers of all things we need and (quite often), don’t need. Your role is not as the gatekeeper. To the contrary, you’re just the gate — to all consumer products regardless of whether they were made in third-world sweatshops by child labor or by a food industry intent to keep up addicted to sugar and fat. Delivering products to our doorsteps is what you do very well, and it becomes incumbent upon the customer to decide what he or she wants. Not you.
But now retailers are interfering with the distribution of real news. The pushers of toilet paper and tampons are now blockading what America chooses to buy and read. If the people of New England are outraged by an article in Rolling Stone, then they can (and should) simply refuse to buy it. It’s not Walgreens’, CVS’s, or K-Mart’s job to decide for us what we want to read this month, or decide what’s offensive and inappropriate. We can do that for ourselves — thank you very much.
A few years ago, a cartoon appeared in a Danish newspaper which some claim was offensive to Islam. The cartoonist, Kurt Westergaard, received several death threats. Accordingly, media all over the Western world (e.g., the so-called free-world) capitulated to the pressure of fanatics and refused to re-print these cartoons, fearing backlash in the form of violence. However, a brave few English-language publications didn’t buckle to the threats. They did the job real journalists so. Which is to research, write, and put it all out there for us to digest and consume.
Those brave few publications which did end up printing the controversial cartoons found they were not welcome by most American retailers. Even Borders bookstore (which has since gone out of business) refused to stock any magazine which included the controversial drawings of Kurt Westergaard. What bitter irony when free-market forces refuse to do either — which is act freely or market.
This month’s Rolling Stone cover story may indeed be inappropriate and offensive to some. And if you don’t like it, then here’s some advice: Don’t buy it. But I sure as hell don’t want K-Mart assuming the role of my protector and making that decision for me. Now, that’s something fundamentally outrageous and offensive.