Why Does Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Have So Many Female Fans?

What Women Really Think
July 12 2013 10:51 AM

Why Does Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Have So Many Female Fans?

168486581
It is the hair?

Photo by ELENA FITKULINA/AFP/Getty Images

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving of two accused terrorist brothers, showed up to court Wednesday to plead not guilty to 30 criminal counts for setting off two bombs at the Boston marathon. To make the already-unsettling occasion even uglier, he was greeted by a throng of adoring fans, mostly young women who constitute the "Free Jahar" movement, named after a nickname he adopted to make his name easier for native English speakers to pronounce. Conspiracy theorists pop up after every terrorist incident—and sometimes just after weather incidents—but what makes the "Free Jahar" crew unusual is that they appear to be mainly young women.

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. 

Advertisement

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. Pining after convicted or sure-to-be-convicted criminals adds another layer of fantasy to the whole thing. In 2010, Barbie Latza Nadeau interviewed author Sheila Isenberg, author of Women Who Love Men Who Kill, and Isenberg explained how the fantasy of getting attention from a famous murderer is easier to realize than the fantasy of attention from other celebrities:

Women and men who are desperate for attention also find captive criminals easier to love. Isenberg notes that real celebrities are less likely to respond to fan mail than someone in prison, making it easier to actually develop a relationship with the often-dangerous criminals. “Any guy sitting in jail or on death row will focus attention out of boredom,” she says. “But that romantic focus is like a blazing light to some women.”

In other words, if you crush on Brad Pitt or Justin Timberlake, they are too busy living their glamorous lives to think about you. But if you support an otherwise hated person, you can be more assured that they might give you the attention you crave. In a society that cherishes fame above nearly all other qualities, that's probably as close as most women are going to get to it.

Amanda Marcotte is a Brooklyn-based writer and DoubleX contributor. She also writes regularly for the Daily Beast, AlterNet, and USA Today. Follow her on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Sports Nut

Grandmaster Clash

One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

Uh-Oh. The World’s Oceans Have Broken Their All-Time Heat Record.

The NFL Explains How It Sees “the Role of the Female”

Future Tense

How to Keep Apple From Sharing Your iPhone Data With the Police

Food

How to Order Chinese Food

First, stop thinking of it as “Chinese food.”

A Simple Way to Keep Apple From Sharing Your iPhone Data With the Police

The Country Where Women Aren’t Allowed to Work Once They’re 36 Weeks’ Pregnant

The XX Factor
Sept. 18 2014 11:40 AM The Country Where Women Aren’t Allowed to Work Once They’re 36 Weeks’ Pregnant
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 18 2014 8:20 PM A Clever Attempt at Explaining Away a Vote Against the Farm Bill
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 18 2014 6:02 PM A Chinese Company Just Announced the Biggest IPO in U.S. History
  Life
The Slate Quiz
Sept. 18 2014 11:44 PM Play the Slate News Quiz With Jeopardy! superchampion Ken Jennings.
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 18 2014 8:07 PM Crying Rape False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 18 2014 1:23 PM “It’s Not Every Day That You Can Beat the World Champion” An exclusive interview with chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 4:33 PM The Top 5 Dadsplaining Moments From The Cosby Show
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 6:48 PM By 2100 the World's Population Could Be 11 Billion
  Health & Science
Science
Sept. 18 2014 3:35 PM Do People Still Die of Rabies? And how do you know if an animal is rabid?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.