You heard about all that #FreeJahar stuff after the Boston Marathon bombings, right? Basically, surviving bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev -- thanks to some combination of his floppy boy-band hair and whatever it is that causes women to propose to Scott Peterson in jail -- has become a bit of a sex-symbol-slash-online-community, giving graduating One Direction fans someone else to spend all their time writing real-people fanfic about.
Jahar wanted to become a nurse and was a lifeguard because he wanted to save lives, what makes you think he wanted to take them? #FreeJahar
— TrillJvhar ✨ (@jahartaughtyou) July 17, 2013
It's a little scary and weird, but most of them are kids and teenagers who don't really know any better. Only one of them, so far, is an enormously influential magazine that, like #FreeJahar fans, is intermittently convinced that there's a causal relationship between the truth and how offended the people around you are by the thing you're yelling. Meet Rolling Stone, suddenly well-positioned to reach the demographic that loves both Tiger Beat and the movie Zeitgeist.
At least, you'd think that.
As it turns out, though, the remaining #FreeJahar types -- if you can find them, now that the hashtag's been crowded with people reacting to the Rolling Stone cover -- don't seem to like the idea of their hero getting a feature.
I'd sue the shit out of Rolling Stone if I was the person on that cover wrongly accused of doing shit.
— Free Jahar (@free_jtsar2) July 17, 2013
I guess I'd feel the same way if Weezer were accused of murdering several people on the cover of Rolling Stone, in their defense, although I can't know for sure until that happens.
But what's ridiculous about this magazine cover is the same thing that's kind of sad and affecting about the #FreeJahar people: It creates a weirdly personal connection to somebody who has mostly been invented by the people who've decided they speak for him.
In the magazine's defense, the feature attempts to build up a portrait of the real Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. But its presentation has more in common with the unaffected headcanon of #FreeJahar's lonely followers.
We should write him a letter saying he is so popular he's on Rolling Stone cover "Wow, Rolling Stone cover? Hope niggas chose a good pic".
— Free Jahar (@free_jtsar2) July 17, 2013
That's far from the most questionable thing about this cover, of course; the most pressing debate is whether it's wise to negotiate with terrorists' egos in this way, and then whether it's actually making a point profound enough to be worth defending.
@free_jtsar2 God willing ;)
— shellen azara (@fadeelijahwood) July 17, 2013
But the design, intentionally or unintentionally, hits incredibly close to #FreeJahar territory. The soft-focus indie-press-photo aesthetic is basically unchanged from how Rolling Stone would try to make you feel a close, personal connection with Sean Lennon.
And the close, personal connection is what #FreeJahar is all about. These are lonely people, looking for a lunch table where they can carry on all sides of the conversation, and #FreeJahar Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is the quiet, handsome stranger who will let them get the words out.
— Blew a kiss.. (@Jahars_army) July 10, 2013
#FreeJahar Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is just looking for a friend, and because he can't speak he is much less threatening than most people who are looking for friends -- he's dependent on you, the socially anxious teen girl who will bring this cover story to his attention. After you do that, the two of you will share an off-handedly intimate bit of small-talk about it.
"Don't worry, n-word," you'll say, "It's a very good pic."
I only have one friend in life so if I get really excited when you talk to me that's why
— Madeline (@freethelionn) July 15, 2013
I wish I was apart of these little friendship cliques aw oh well
— Madeline (@freethelionn) July 16, 2013
we treat each other like shit, we were never a family to begin with.
— nippleboy luvs amber (@_freejaharr) July 16, 2013
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And the cover -- not the report itself, but the cover -- is perfect for that imagined conversation. Probably too perfect: Now they'll have to share him with a culture that was just reminded of how ridiculous it all is.