Religion aside for a moment, there’s a terrible addiction that has swept across this country, and it’s one of the nation’s best kept secrets. Mostly everyone will tell you that it’s a really bad thing, but nobody can seem to stop doing it. And it doesn’t come cheap, nearly sixty percent of us are in long term debt because of it. No, we’re not talking booze, drugs or overeating. It’s shopping. And over 15 million Americans may in fact be addicted to it.
Rob VanAlkemade’s ‘What Would Jesus Buy?’ is a rousing, irreverent and simultaneously sobering documentary about the year round destructive shopaholic obsession that spins into an out of control buying and spending orgy by the time Christmas rolls around. The movie follows performance activist Reverend Billy and his ragtag cross country caravan, The Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir, to bring the voice of reason a few holiday seasons ago, to compulsive consumers everywhere.
The intent of this countdown to Christmas is to save the holiday from what Reverend Billy has dubbed only slighty in jest, the Shopocalypse. Ironically, many of his group are injured when one of their buses collides on a highway with a truck rushing to deliver Christmas merchandise to stores. Meanwhile, the Reverend muses, ‘everyone in a car is driving to a television.’
The What Would Jesus Buy? project is the brainchild of Morgan Spurlock, the same guy who in a less spiritual frame of mind, lost the junk food battle of the bulge against McDonald’s with his Academy Award nominated high calorie investigative doc, Super Size Me. The concerns of What Would Jesus Buy? are broader than digestion issues, as Reverend Billy and entourage put out a wakeup call to mall junkies everywhere, exorcising the demons from assorted cash registers and credit cards as he urges consumers to return to a more authentic relationship to Christmas.
Reverend Billy’s approach to advocating healing social change, along with the thousands of followers in his congregation, is to infuse protest with humor, energizing his message with feelgood social activism. The businesses he holds up to a higher standard may not feel quite the same way, as the manic preacher formerly known as Bill Talen has been booted from countless stores and malls, and is the only bible thumper to have a permanent restraining order against him issued by Starbucks. With his clerical collar, white tuxedo, bleached blonde pompadour and portable pulpit and ambulatory confession booth in tow, Reverend Billy has ranted to whomever will give a listen, urging folks to get in touch with a more human, less materialistic way of life and consider the promise that a ‘change-allelujah’ shout-out can bring.
At once bouyant and a little sad, What Would Jesus Buy? includes candid conversations with the shopping disorder afflicted who, seriously bitten by the overconsumption bug, just can’t seem to help themselves. One teen confesses that if she doesn’t constantly buy the latest clothing fashions, she’s terrified of being ostracized and ridiculed by everyone at school. And a woman shows off her closet at home filled to the brim with colorful outfits – all for her pet chihuahua. On the other hand, life isn’t necessarily a breeze living with a guy who’s driven to get his message out there 24/7. Reverend Billy’s wife, the straight man to her prankish spouse of the cloth, confesses, ‘we fell in love before I knew what he was up to.’
Not all viewers may find Reverend Billy’s intervention quite so divine in What Would Jesus Buy?. But whatever his particular madness, there’s an unmistakable method at work, inspiring real reflection when it comes to exactly what this consumerized holiday season is all about.
More information about What Would Jesus Buy? and Reverend Billy, is online at: WWJBmovie.com and RevBilly.com. The theatrical release schedule is available at those websites, including the 11/16 opening at the Cinema Village in New York City, and at California and other theaters around the country later in November and December.