When I first saw the twitter outrage (twoutrage?) over the upcoming Rolling Stone cover featuring "The Bomber" Tsarnaev I must admit that I thought it more funny than alarming, mostly because, as Stephen Colbert also pointed out last night, I was shocked people still cared about magazines or their covers. Yet, upon hearing of the recent decisions of CVS and Walgreens to boycott the magazine with surely many to follow suit, I was reminded of Carl Jung's theory of the Shadow.
Much like The Shadow of pulp novels, radio plays, and a very under-appreciated comic book movie (seriously, watch it again, and tell me that Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy wasn't an homage), our Shadow knows what darkness lurks within us. That darkness is revealed most clearly in our outrage, our hatred, and in particular in our choice of nemesis.
When I am in line for a movie and someone cuts in front of me, do I get mad because he is disrespecting the rest of us who are waiting patiently and socially appropriately, or do I get mad because he reveals to me what I wish I could do but lack the courage to do? Similarly, when George W. Bush famously declared that the terrorists "hate us for our freedom," was it perhaps not the case that in fact we hate them for their freedom? If anything has been revealed by our use of torture, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, drones, and now NSA surveillance, isn't it that we wish that we could use the same freedom from the law and freedom to destroy that terrorists use against us? That we love vigilante movies and love to mock the hero's foil of the "by-the-book" partner (The Heat is the most recent of a long line of such films) only further shows how much we desperately want to both root for what the bad guy does and hate anyone who would root for bad guys.
This schism is precisely what the Rolling Stone cover and Carl Jung provoke, our listen-to-what-I-admonish but ignore-what-I-watch culture that we live in. If you fear that Rolling Stone is "glamorizing" Tsarnaev by putting him on their cover and presenting him "like a rock star," you should take a step back and realize that you are the one projecting the glamorization and rock star status onto Tsarnaev, not the magazine.
To paraphrase Nietzsche, "When you look long into the abyss of Tsarnaev's eyes, the abyss also looks back into you."