Why we want bad people to have horns like the devil

19 Jul

Well, I haven’t been here much lately, owing to family responsibilities, ill health, & various other matters like writer’s block and such.

This Rolling Stone cover of alleged Boston bomber Tsarnaev and the outrage it provoked in some quarters captured my attention. Some readers claimed the image was “glamourising terrorism,” “making martyrs out of terrorists,” and portraying Tsarnaev as a rock star, and they cancelled their subscriptions in protest.

One of the shocking realities about those among us who commit horrendous acts, is that they usually look much like everybody else and sometimes, like Tsarnaev, are prettier than average. This seems to arouse a frightened indignation in many people: how dare these offenders exist in the world without some visible sign of their dark hearts and black intentions? The serial killer who looks just like the bloke next door ruptures the imagined and desired order of things. There’s a sense of unfairness, of being duped: how can someone who looks so good turn out to be so bad?

It wouldn’t be easy to transform Tsarnaev, for example, into a physical representation of his thoughts and deeds without resorting to caricature. His alleged deeds are thought of as “monstrous,” implying that they do not belong in the human but in a biological aberration, physically malformed and psychologically hideous. As author of his deeds, Tsarnaev is accorded the descriptor “monster” without possessing any physically monstrous attributes. Judging by the offence taken by some Rolling Stones readers, there is a strong need in the human population for a book to look exactly like its cover, in spite of all our experience to the contrary.

Representing Tsarnaev in caricature as monstrous and evil would resolve the dissonance between appearance and action, but in so doing, would in fact deflect from the appalling nature of his alleged actions. It would satisfy the childlike demand for congruence: the baddy must look the part. But it would obfuscate the complexities of human evil: it is not monsters who perform these acts. It is human beings. Evil doesn’t come from outside the human: it is securely embedded within.

The need to portray Tsarnaev as monstrous, the need to deny his prettiness, his human-ness, springs from the desire to distance ourselves from his alleged acts: if he is human, and has done such things, what does that mean for the rest of us? Can we comfortably admit to belonging to the same species as a mass murderer? It would seem not. We have to differentiate between our selves and unimaginable evil: to acknowledge that evil as part of humanity is far too confronting.

Yet in creating that distance, we reduce the magnitude of the horror, which is not that these acts were perpetrated by a monster, but that they were perpetrated by a human being. We are a dangerous, deadly species. Look around you. How much more proof of that do we need?


20 Responses to “Why we want bad people to have horns like the devil”

  1. Mindy July 19, 2013 at 12:49 pm #

    I’m not sure whether people found it more objectionable that Tsarnaev looks like a young rock star, which I initially assumed he was, or that he is white and not the stereotypical person of ‘Middle Eastern appearance’.

    I think this is a great cover by Rolling Stone.


    • Jennifer Wilson July 19, 2013 at 5:46 pm #

      So do I. There is a precedent – they did a similar cover of Charles Manson


  2. hudsongodfrey July 19, 2013 at 1:41 pm #

    Given that Rolling Stone have featured everyone from Ozzy Osbourne to Justin Bieber and back, including Charles Manson. I don’t think there’s much that’s so new about this other than to be slightly sceptical about print media courting controversy to revive its flagging fortunes.

    The point is nevertheless we’ll made about “other”ing even in the case of those who clearly have overstepped some line of conscience. Maybe it’s even more pertinent in those cases to say that only when we’re able to stop demonising others will our own demons be truly exorcised?


    • hudsongodfrey July 19, 2013 at 3:33 pm #

      Oh and just quickly it’s my job to mention in relation to the article’s title, “Don’t you know there ain’t no devil, there’s just god when he’s drunk” – Tom Waits 🙂


  3. samjandwich July 19, 2013 at 3:30 pm #

    Jennifer I hope this is a sign that your ill-health, writers block etc have ameliorated!

    I can’t remember where, but I certainly remember reading somewhere that we are likely to ascribe a higher level of virtue to attractive-looking people than to ugly people, at least until we get to know them, but even when you do get to know them, the illusion persists.

    Which poses all sorts of problems when you talk about things like “objectifying” certain categories of people, or creating a level playing field in workplaces and so forth.

    I think there’s a lot of truth in this, and I also think it’s disingenuous to deny in. Some people are born luckier than others, and while it’s probably important to train oneself to try to see past the obvious, or at least to become self-aware about your reactions, I don’t think anyone can ever claim to be immune to its influence.

    My take on this saga is that at this point in our history, people seem to have more difficulty acknowledging their responsibility for their own thoughts and actions, so when they feel personally confronted they look for someone else to blame.

    And while you could probably give the example of child-molesting priests to show that this is not a new phenomenon, I guess the difference these days is that people do it overtly now, and still expect to be listened to.

    But then again, aren’t *we* the dissenters! Good work RS, and well-spotted Jennifer!


  4. paul walter July 19, 2013 at 10:50 pm #

    ” Who us?”
    Well, yes.
    But there is also an Owellian aspect: the extent to which public opinion and manufactured consent are at play. The comments reflect a level of brainwashing and hysteria almost of a sort a sober bystander would attribute to the mobs circling the Ayatollah or roaring in the central square of Pyongyang. There is a a complete disconnect with reality and how politics really operates in the world.
    We look locally to asylum seekers and aborigines, for example, and do NOT stand up very well in the humanitarian/”civilised” stakes, actually.
    One irony is, that Djokaer Tsarnaev is probably one of millions of “othered ” people throughout the world who have been forever turned turned off the positives of western civilisation through a series of antics like the current one in destabilised Syria, where hundreds of thousands killed and maimed and two millions made refugee are considered acceptable collateral damage, for a phony war between Russia, Iran and their allies on one side, and Turkey the US and Israel on another involving geopolitical motives.
    There is NOTHING offensive about the cover. RS has tired to move the issue to a less emotional stage for a closer look at what’s behind phenomena like the Boston Bombing, but some are so full of propaganda they can’t recognise news as news unless its first been propagandised.

    On a different issue.
    For my part, I also need to deeply criticise Labor for removing Gillard.
    Now First Dog is no longer able to bring us caricatures of a certain former PM with a perfectly engaging and cute set of little hornlets, that she brought to Australia from the coal pits of the Rhondda.


    • helvityni July 20, 2013 at 9:49 am #

      I wish that the priests sexually molesting our children, would have had horns on their heads so the kids would have recognised them as the devils they were….maybe they’ll grow them later on when they end up in hell….where there is no need for them as they are ALL devils in that place….

      Or does Tom Waits’ god sometimes accidently let them in his heaven when he’s a little tipsy.


  5. Darrell July 20, 2013 at 11:38 am #

    Yes, Jennifer.. Psychotherapy on Society 101!!! Oh how we all preach to the “converted”.. But speak we must.. Gaining Conscious awareness of our own Shadow side, & therefore that of the Collective.. And, stepping out of the Collective “unthinking” mode.. always puts one in the firing line of the limited conservative mindset.. Making one an “Other”.. So all those who “feel” this otherness.. questioning the Collective Consensus, can relate to this feeling of “otherness” or “alienation” from the distortions of the Consensus world.. However, becoming a “terrorist” is a relative term.. One may ask why terrorism exists? In the deepest sense that is.. One may choose to “question” the so called decline in the moral values of the world in which we live, in the simplistic fundamentalist kind of way.. Or, one under-stands, the deeper realities of one’s own nature, & therefore of human nature as a Whole.. This is what is meant by developing deeper awareness of the great complexities of human nature. ie. developing a “Lunar Awareness” as opposed to being trapped in the more popular zeitgeist of the modern world, that is so highly focused on the “Godly” or “Godlike” higher realms, ie. of Solar Consciousness.. And, all this with my listening to a fascinating discussion by mythologist Michael Meade on this great “issue” in the modern world.. ie. Solar Consciousness or awareness will brook no imperfection, & is incapable of “deep reflection”.. ie. incapable of using Lunar awareness, since it is the Moon, that “reflects the scorching light of the Sun.. And, is this not what ails the modern world.. And, this is exactly the “issues” we face in the transition into the so-called Age of Aquarius.. the Age of the Mind.. We must be able to hold the values of the previous Piscean Age, which began with the birth of Christ.. Which is a long way from the great religious institutions that exist today.. And, Jesus was essentially a “rebel,” anti-establishment, symbolising the ability to have compassion for others in their suffering, the suffering of “the Soul”.. a concept seemingly completely lost in the modern rationalistic world.. A deep suffering in all us in “reality”.. Since we have all been “wounded” in one way or another.. And more broadly, especially so, in all those that are demonised or persecuted by the Collective.. ie. “He who has not sinned, throw the first stone” etc…. But since the whole modern world seems to be unable to admit our own failings & the failings of Society as a Whole.. We cannot connect to our own hearts.. ie. having compassion for the fallen, the lost & the tormented, within ourselves.. Unable to admit to our own wounds & imperfections etc, ie. caught up in our own infantile attitudes of “guilt” that go way back to infancy.. that we cannot admit any guilt at all, since this could mean we would be admitting guilt all the way back to infancy.. Not to mention having to confront all the betrayals by our ancestors & Society as a Whole etc et al.. So here “we” all are trapped in a world stuck in it’s great infantile complex…… And, all the while listening to Michael Meade, author of The World Behind the World, & Fate & Destiny: Two Agreements of the Soul.. talking from a series of mp3 recordings he made on the ‘Alchemy of Fire’ & ‘Initiation & the Soul’.. available at http://www.mosiacvoices.com..


  6. doug quixote July 20, 2013 at 6:33 pm #

    Is anyone else having difficulty posting?


    • doug quixote July 20, 2013 at 10:42 pm #

      Just bloody WordPress, perhaps.


      • paul walter July 20, 2013 at 11:30 pm #

        Or WordPus, as Hypo used to call it.


  7. doug quixote July 21, 2013 at 9:59 am #

    The dread word has been spoken! Is it dead or merely sleeping, like King Arthur?


  8. paul walter July 21, 2013 at 5:41 pm #

    The Kraken Wakes.


    • doug quixote July 21, 2013 at 7:31 pm #

      I hadn’t thought about that novel for years. Now there’s a worry! Perhaps the aliens were really to blame for global warming? Do they want a warmer, wetter world? 🙂


      • paul walter July 21, 2013 at 10:29 pm #

        Are you inferring that Hypo is an alien?


  9. メガネオークリー September 5, 2013 at 5:44 pm #

    ブレスレット 店 メガネオークリー http://www.shpsorespectful.info/



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