Wet Puns of Mass Destruction

Steven Wishnia May 11, 2005

I’m not sure whether this book is brilliant, annoying or both. Theater of War, The Indypendent contributor Nicholas Powers’ comic exegesis on the semantics of America’s post-9/11 imperial politics, is a thicket of Rastafarianesque postmodernist puns, in which “American Idol” a.k.a. the “United Steaks” wages war on “Errorism” in “Aft-Can-I-Stand.”

Some of this is very funny, as when Powers defines “Pakistan” as “Pack & Stand Deli”: “After 9/11 a paranoid New York became suspicious of Pakistani taxi drivers and deli owners, fearing they were building bombs in between making sandwiches for customers.” Other parts are largely incomprehensible: “The great struggles over the Twenty Sense Usury, between libel and total Aryanism ended with the sigh of victims’ story for the orifices of freedom – and a single sustainable model for rational sex: read them marketing pamphlets for free exercise.”

Wading through 90 pages of this is not easy. Powers can write and he can feel, as the poems in here show, and his mind takes some fascinating turns, but much of Theater of War reads more like a conceptual art project than something you’d sit down with for pleasure or enlightenment.

Powers is on more solid ground when he introduces Theater of War in a mock-Broadway playbill, with cast bios like “Muslim Terrorists (The Evil Doers) Debuted as scimitar-wielding shadows in The Crusades…Won the Pan Arab Human Firecracker Award for their portrayal of desperation in The Intifada,” and when he concludes, “The choice isn’t between a world of benevolent Capitalism or Muslim Fanaticism; to reduce our options to those two is false. It’s between the freedom of the human imagination or terror of the Other becoming terrorism itself.”

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