Assistant Professor of Media and Society Leah Shafer was interviewed for a live, on-air segment with the Huffington Post, July 18, discussing the controversial subject of the Rolling Stone cover featuring Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
When asked to comment on the photo in the context of the Rolling Stone cover, versus its previous appearance in the New York Times and The Atlantic, Shafer noted: “One of the things that’s most important is to put it in context with other Rolling Stone covers. If we look back historically, people in the media keep referencing the Charles Manson cover. One thing about that cover is that it was only Charles Manson the cover, it had a very strong graphic and it talks about it in apocalyptic terms. Whereas in Dzhokhar’s cover we have his face right next to the term Jay-Z, we have it next to Willie Nelson. I think that having it in the context of those other things on the cover really changes things in terms of the way people are interpreting it.”
She points to the fact that “…He took this photo himself. And to my mind, one of the things that’s interesting about it is that it demonstrates how new media and social media have changed the landscape in which we interpret these images, and that the scale of something that’s maybe a tiny photo of something on Twitter can get blown up and put on the cover of Rolling Stone and make a giant impact.”
Following other panelists’ discussion of the picture of Dzhokhar itself, Shafer points out, “One of the things that’s most notable about the image is that he’s wearing an Armani Exchange T-shirt and the way that he gets sort of branded as being a part of the culture and I think that’s why the fact that it says Rolling Stone on top of the image is so relevant.”
She continues, “We need to think about him precisely in the context of someone who was a -quote ‘popular, promising student’- and part of American culture and why is it that those people being radicalized. It may have less to do with his race or ethnic background or the fact that he was an immigrant, but the fact that he is someone that the article calls a ‘pillow soft kid.’ I think Rolling Stone thought well this is a perfect juxtaposition when we’re going to call him a monster and show this image of him where he looks like a child.”
Shafer concluded, “We live in a world in which there are terrorists next to Jay-Z and next to Willie Nelson and people really need to be able to interpret and look at these images together and see how they work together in our culture.”
The live interview can be seen online.
A member of the HWS faculty since 2008, Shafer received her A.B. and M.A. from Cornell University. She earned a Ph.D. from the department of theatre, film and dance at Cornell, with her dissertation “Brand Name Vision: Comedy and Props in the Films of John Hughes.”
Shafer has served as an instructor in the department of cinema, photography and media arts at Ithaca College and as an instructor and campus coordinator at Bard Prison Initiative. Shafer’s areas of interest include visual culture, new media, television history, celebrity culture, digital humanities and media literacy. She has also served as co-curator of a local film festival, and assisted in the direction of several Cornell theater department plays.
Her work has been published in several journals including Women and Performance: a Journal of Feminist Theory, Transnational Cinemas, and Reconstruction: Studies in Contemporary Culture.