What Would Jesus Buy? has been doing the rounds of film festivals in the U.S. since March but it’s about to get wider release.
It follows the story of self styled anti-consumerism preacher Reverend Billy. Along with his Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir he goes on a cross-country mission to save Christmas from the Shopocalypse.
From producer Morgan Spurlock (SUPER SIZE ME) and director Rob VanAlkemade comes a serious docu-comedy about the commercialization of Christmas. Bill Talen (aka Reverend Billy) was a lost idealist who hitchhiked to New York City only to find that Times Square was becoming a mall. Spurred on by the loss of his neighborhood and inspired by the sidewalk preachers around him, Bill bought a collar to match his white caterer’s jacket, bleached his hair and became the Reverend Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping. Since 1999, Reverend Billy has gone from being a lone preacher with a portable pulpit preaching on subways, to the leader of a congregation and a movement whose numbers are well into the thousands.
Through retail interventions, corporate exorcisms, and some good old-fashioned preaching, Reverend Billy reminds us that we have lost the true meaning of Christmas. What Would Jesus Buy? is a journey into the heart of America – from exorcising the demons at the Wal-Mart headquarters to taking over the center stage at the Mall of America and then ultimately heading to the Promised Land … Disneyland.
Of course Billy’s not really a reverend and he says that he’s not a Christian but his message against consumerism as a way of life is a call to us all. In a day when even the church tries to sell us more and more stuff that we don’t need, Rev. Billy brings a welcome change.
The divine judgment Rev. Billy pronounces concerns a condemnation of religion that has been “hijacked” by the right wing, the resignation that we have “nothing to love but fear itself,” and the self-deceptive illusion that commodities can make us safe and happy. The shopping he assaults is seen to be an ideological practice whereby we keep “the demons in the zoo.” All of that will come to a sorry end for which he uses the term “shopocalypse,” a play on “apocalypse,” that imagined end of the world in a divine judgment as a great conflagration. Like every good poet, Billy has no interest in when or how that may happen, but only a conviction that this ideology that drives our society can only end in failure and raw disappointment.
There may well be parts of this movie that make me feel uncomfortable, especially as it parodies the Christian church, but from what I’ve seen so far, it is more about holding a mirror up to the excesses of the church than ridiculing Jesus Christ.
With Christmas so rapidly approaching I wonder whether you’ll be taking steps to get off the spending merry-go-round. Will you be spending the first half of 2008 paying off the last month of 2007? What are some of the strategies you use to put a bit of sense back into the Christmas season?
Posted by Rodney Olsen
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