This week has given us a tutorial in the visceral power of images.
First, this one:
This is the cover of the Rolling Stone, which features a longform article about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the (as yet still accused) Boston Marathon bomber.
Then, we have these (separate link). This is the night when he was captured after an extensive manhunt.
Two different images. One that the young man took of himself, trying to show his best face in social media. The other is him defeated.
Which one is the truth?
The picture on the cover of Rolling Stone lit the torch of outrage in many a gut. “This glorifies terrorism!” they scream. “This makes him look like a sexy rock star!” “Boycott, burn, condemn!”
Never mind that the article behind the cover, written by Janet Reitman , neither glamorizes nor glorifies, but tells a relentlessly sad story of a young man, fractured inside, who made a decision that destroyed whatever future he may have enjoyed. Never mind that this same image is only one of three portraits of Dzhokhar that the media uses; it has been seen before, even on the front page of the New York Times.
As for the pictures of the capture, the police photographer who leaked them to the press (and who has been relieved of duty for his trouble), gave this as his motivation:
“I hope that the people who see these images will know that this was real. It was as real as it gets… What Rolling Stone did was wrong. This guy is evil. This is the real Boston bomber. Not someone fluffed and buffed for the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.”
When you look upon those photos, what do you see? A weak, bleeding creature who can barely crawl out of the boat.
The first image says “beauty.” The second set of images says “suffering.” And to some, “martyrdom.”
It is too easy to think of people, things, and events as whole, unalloyed entities.
“This monster is a dirty rotten terrorist who should have been shot in the head as soon as he crawled out of the boat like the worm he is.”
“He’s totally innocent! He’s just a sweet boy who loves Nutella, weed, and his friends. Free Jahar!”
This is a mistake on the part of both RS cover critics and #FreeJahar devotees.
All of us, at the very least, are bifurcated. Trifrucated. Quadrofucated. And more.
I see two distinct individuals: Dzhokhar, the accused bomber with evidence against him. Dzhokhar, who allowed his brother or his religion or his disappointment with life – or all three – to convince him to shatter the peace of a sporting event (we’re lucky that only three died that day). Dzhokhar, whose future is either on the execution table or sixty-plus years in prison (barring an EPIC FAIL by the prosecution).
And Jahar. Jahar, the gentle son, the low-key athlete, the loyal friend, the charming Tweeter. And, to some, a boyfriend to dream of. Someone to hold hands in the park with, ride in the county fair Ferris wheel with, watch the stars on the top of the car with, snuggle on the couch and binge-watch TV with. Someone to kiss, someone to hold. Someone to melt into, making each other’s body sing.
How easy it is to remember the face of Jahar and spin him into a fictional romantic hero. Real Person (fan fiction) Stories, or RPS, about Jahar have appeared online. The best of these are on Wattpad – here, here, and here. I expect to see more, perhaps in mainstream publishing, with Jahar carrying another name – hidden from all but those who understand.
This is the only way to free Jahar. Write the Jahar who is in your heart. Use your words to give him a happy future with love and hope.
Don’t bet your life on Dzhokhar being free in the real world.