So What’s at the Heart of the ‘Free Jahar’ Movement?
Would the Rolling Stone magazine cover be less bothersome if we hadn’t also seen a “Free Jahar” movement appear in recent months?
Let Elizabeth Stoker of The Atlantic summarize the phenomenon:
Since the capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the young man allegedly responsible, along with his now deceased older brother, for this year’s Boston Marathon bombings, media outlets have anxiously observed the development of the “Free Jahar movement.” Less a typical protest group and more a loosely affiliated confederation of conspiracy theorists, Tsarnaev sympathizers, and anti-government dissenters, these individuals communicate mainly through social media sites like Tumblr and Twitter, where they keep up to date on the latest developments in Tsarnaev’s trial by tagging pictures and text posts with #FreeJahar. The Twitter account devoted to the cause, @FreeJahar, has fewer than 2,000 followers. The handful of Tumblr accounts devoted to the same purpose use hashtags to indicate posts related to Dzhokhar, allowing for easy, anonymous perusal.
Oh, wait; Stoker feels these folks have been . . . wait for it . . . unfairly stereotyped!
Those who support Tsarnaev have a variety of reasons for doing so. Some believe he is innocent, and that the marathon bombings were perpetrated by the U.S. government. Others believe that Tsarnaev’s rights were violated during and shortly after his capture, while others fear that he will be subject to the death penalty, which they oppose. Yet despite the fact that conspiracy theories and their adherents abound all over the web, it is the primarily female users of these social media outlets who have been, despite their varied reasons for supporting Tsarnaev, uniformly reviled as a single entity in the media.
To properly smear Tsarnaev’s female supporters, it was first necessary to lump them together in a gender-based cadre stripped of whatever affiliations they may have ascribed to themselves: Tsarnaev fangirls.
What’s that? You feel the media isn’t giving these folks a fair shake? Then listen carefully, because somewhere the Tea Party is playing the world’s smallest violin in sympathy.
I’m going to do something I don’t ordinarily do: cheerfully cite Amanda Marcotte of Slate as a rebuttal:
Tsarnaev’s supporters insist that they have purely intellectual reasons for supporting the young man accused of causing three deaths and 14 amputations. They believe the government set him up. But they sure do spend a lot of time sharing pictures of him on Tumblr, squealing over any behavior of his that can be construed as “cute,” and clucking maternally over his well being. On Wednesday, outrage flared up in “Free Jahar” circles because of the unflattering portrayal of him in the court illustrations. The whole thing feels uncomfortably like a Justin Bieber fan squee — bad enough when it’s for Bieber, but even worse for someone who appears to be a remorseless killer.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing new about this. Every reasonably good-looking, famous criminal can count on getting a fan club of excitable women who justify their affections by denying his guilt or rationalizing his crimes — or both, since we’re not talking about rational people here. Olympian Oscar Pistorius, accused of murdering his girlfriend, has a devoted fan base that swings between claiming he was framed and hinting that his victim had it coming. Ted Bundy had scores of groupies, and even managed to marry one of them. And there are so many rabid fans of the violent Chris Brown (notably, not a killer) that even the object of their affection has asked them to cool it with the constant haranguing of whoever he’s currently beefing with.
So what’s in it for the women? I think the answer is in the fantasy many women have of loving a dangerous man who then, by virtue of this love, eventually reveals a gentleness he doesn’t show the rest of the world. It’s the old “my love tamed the dangerous beast” fairy tale of romance novels and Disney movies.
This puts Amanda Marcotte on largely the same page as . . . Michelle Malkin. Bipartisanship!
I would like to declare a war on women — namely, on all those cringe-inducing ninnies who lust after every celebrity criminal defendant with big muscles, tattoos, puppy-dog eyes, or Hollywood hair.
You know who I’m talking about, right? America’s Bad Boy groupies. They’re on the courthouse steps with their “Free Jahar” signs, cooing over how “hot” and “cute” the bloodstained Boston Marathon bombing suspect is. He “can blow me up with babies,” one moral reprobate quipped shortly after his capture. “I’m not gonna lie, the second bombing suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, is hot. #sorrynotsorry,” another young girl boasted.
If you think he’s hot now, sweetheart, you should check him out when he sits in the electric chair.
(I know, I know, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled the death penalty unconstitutional in 1984, and if federal courts sentence him to death, he’ll get lethal injection.)
So, in the Free Jahar crowd, are we seeing the same old freaky-crush-on-a-serial-killer phenomenon amplified in the age of social media, or is this something different?
It ties into his appearance, doesn’t it? We’re used to terrorists looking like this:
What, no Khalid Sheik Mohammed groupies? Okay, I guess they have some standards.
Terrorists in the public eye are not usually so young, and their life experiences are usually extremely different from that of the average American teenager. So perhaps Little Brother Bomber’s visage breaks through some young people’s cultural filters because he’s not old, he’s not obviously from another culture; he seems like someone they could have known.
And one of the constants of our popular culture is some young, fresh-faced allegedly cute young man who makes young women go insane with excitement and devotion:
Pick your generation.
However, this is a particularly dark turn for our already pretty insufferable culture, because it suggests that some people really can’t get past the idea that beautiful people are good and ugly people are bad. Although that school of thought has been around for a very, very long time:
The early Greeks were inclined to think that beautiful people were good and ugly people bad — still a common point of view, though likely to lead to disillusion. “The most beautiful is the most just,” proclaimed the Delphic Oracle. Plato opined that beauty lay in harmony and proportion, and was best discerned by the mind, not the eye. In late antiquity and the Middle Ages, following the philosopher Plotinus and Abbott Suger of St Denis, many were of the opinion that light and colour emanated from the divine.
The belief that a person’s character, good judgment, moral virtue, etc. is tied into their appearance is horsepuckey, of course.
Charles Krauthammer, back in 1999:
Early in their training of cinematic conventions, kids learn the rule of thumb for sorting out good guys from bad guys: the good-looking guy is good and the bad-looking guy is bad. Indeed, if the guy is positively ugly, he is the likely villain. And if he has something visibly wrong with him — a limp, a scar — he’ll be an especially cruel one.
Of course, Hollywood did not invent this cultural convention. It is a tradition that goes back at least as far as Richard III, whose “Deformed, unfinish’d . . . half made up” body — a hunchback, a limp — prefigured the disfigurement of his soul.
Krauthammer’s column went on to critique the deformed, handicapped Confederate Civil War–veteran villains of Wild, Wild West.
Did years and years of Hollywood’s visual shorthand somehow get hard-wired into how young people see the world?