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From “Superchill” to Boston Bomber

A major controversy, apparently, has been stirred up by Rolling Stone’s decision to put accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on its cover, using a photo that portrays him as a dreamy-eyed teenager — even though he is a dreamy-eyed teenager, and the cover story the photo illustrates is about him.

Some people seem to think the photo is too rock-star-like or heroic, and are upset, apparently, that no photos are available that make Tsarnaev look more menacing and deranged. (The photo is a self-portrait he used on his Twitter account.) Others criticize the idea of profiling Tsarnaev at all, arguing that Rolling Stone should have reported on the bombing’s victims or first responders instead. In response to their criticism, major retailers like CVS and Walgreens are refusing to put this issue on their newsstands.

But anger at the article or its packaging ignores the fact that the story itself deserves to be told. How did a seemingly well-adjusted kid — an immigrant success story, one might say — go from being a wrestling team captain, model student, and laid-back stoner to alleged terrorist in two short years? Viewed purely in terms of dramatic potential, doesn’t this story contain far more human interest than the stories of the victims — who are, after all, only part of the story by tragic accident, rather than through choices they themselves made?

If you are fascinated by stories of how bad people get to be the way they are — and I admit that I am, having previously read about folks like Jim Jones, Marshall Applewhite, David Koresh, Jeffrey Dahmer, Andrew Cunanan, and Jared Loughner — then by all means read the original article, excellently reported by Janet Reitman. If the media controversy is more your thing, then check out this story in The New Yorker, this one in The Atlantic, or this one in Slate.

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