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Zine review: Nerf Jihad – Collected Works

July 14, 2010

I’m not sure quite how far behind I am with this – the editorial at the start of the anthology is dated 2007 – but having recently found the Collected Works of Issues 1-5 of Nerf Jihadavailable here – after months of readership here and there, I realised what it is that intrigues me about the whole enterprise: it perplexes me. Granted, the more unsettling bits just make me feel uncomfortable; the baffling piece of fanfic where Julia Gillard is tied to a chair and forced to eat dog food with a blowtorch taken to her ankles left me particularly unnerved. But it’s the numerous letters to food companies and minor TV celebrities that leave me puzzled to their intention and, whether deliberate or not, keep me reading.

See, they’re not quite outlandish and bizarre enough to be wacky pranks – like Robin Cooper‘s series of Timewaster Letters and phone calls, for example…

– yet they don’t seem to have a sincere enough tone to be genuine letters of complaint and / or appreciation. They aren’t quite saturated with goodwill, like Harriet Lowther’s letters to food manufacturers – most of them end up being rude or nasty to someone in some way – yet at the same time the correspondence, particularly to TV personalities, can be so gushing with praise that it’s hard to argue it as being some sort of ironic critique of celebrity (regardless of what the reader goes away thinking, the main outcome is that the celeb in question has had their ego massaged thoroughly and not much else).

Maybe I’m just meant to chuckle and not think so hard about it, but at the end of each issue I wonder how I’m meant to assess what I’ve just read. It feels like, if I take it seriously, it’ll turn out to be a set of practical jokes mocking the receiver of each letter and, by extension, me for falling for it like an utter chump. But if I decide it’s a set of brilliant piss-takes it may conversely turn out to be the missives of a guy who really means it, struggling to be heartfelt and sweet to his favourite telly presenters in a cynically ironic world, so I would have accused him of not being ‘real’ and thus roundly insulted him. Is it really quite smart, or really quite simple? And will I stop reading if I ever work it out?

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