Last night I received an email from a reader upset because in the Indy‘s print edition this week, our cover story about the Iowa caucuses included a picture of Michael, a 28-year-old textile worker, in a string of photos of GOP candidates. From left to right: Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum—and then there’s Michael.

The rugged-looking, bearded Michael is wearing a baseball cap turned backward—with some errant hair jutting from under it—and a shirt that reads, “I’m a stoner … and I vote.” Now Michael didn’t materialize out of nowhere, unless you consider Iowa nowhere, which I don’t, because I’m from central Indiana and that’s really nowhere.

Indy columnist Jonathan Weiler, who covered the caucuses for us, interviewed Michael for a story that appeared on our Triangulator blog. A friend of Jonathan’s shot the photo, which we used with permission. Michael attended a Ron Paul campaign event and told Jonathan that he supports Paul.

The reader wanted to know why we would place a photo of “an unkempt man” wearing such a T-shirt in juxtaposition to photos of Republican candidates in formal attire. He also asked why we ran the photo when the article didn’t mention the candidates’ positions on the War on Drugs. And the reader questioned why we picked a marijuana activist to photograph and if we were trying to say that Ron Paul supporters are “a bunch of idiot stoners high on grass and out of touch with the reality of how complex politics are in this day and age?”

Well, one man’s unkemptness is another man’s wedding attire. Michael’s a bit burly, but he looks clean to me. It’s not like I could smell him through the photo. And we don’t know that Michael is a marijuana activist. He may just have a sense of humor.

Speaking of humor, there’s no reason to be paranoid (although I’ve heard pot can make you that way, at least temporarily) about our decision to run this photo. I approved of running it in this manner because I thought it was irreverent and funny. It wasn’t an indictment or an endorsement of drug use, or commentary on our failed War on Drugs. (By using the word “failed” here, that is commentary.)

I liked the underlying message that by placing Michael’s photo next to the candidates’—all the pictures were the same size—that he, a young, blue-collar worker, is every bit as important as and equal to the politicians who pretend to have his best interest in mind. If anything, the question should be “Why are those gussied-up mannequins featured next to a real person?”

The photo was merely a small thumb in the big ol’ eye of the powerful. It was to add levity to a ridiculous political charade or, as Jonathan called it, “a depressing spectacle.” As an alternative newsweekly, we’re expected to be cheeky. That’s what alt-weeklies do.

Given the political climate, one can choose to laugh or cry. This week we chose to laugh.