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Reverend Billy poses a provocative question

Posted at 6:58 PM on November 30, 2007 by Euan Kerr


"What would Jesus buy?" aims to provoke. It's a movie which follows the Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping on a national tour in the weeks leading up to Christmas, visiting malls, and corporate offices and even Disneyland to try to persuade people to ease off on the credit cards during the holiday season.

Reverend Billy is performance artist and Rochester Mn native Bill Talen, who has been on a crusade against commercialism ever since 1999 when he arrived in Times Square in NYC and discovered it had become a giant mall.

With a crimson robed choir behind him, Rev. Billy cuts quite a figure with his bleach-blond hair and crisp white suit. He also has a fine line in revivalist patter, much which he learned and refined by watching street preachers. As he rails against the approaching "Shopocalypse" Rev. Billy points to the huge debts being amassed by ordinary Americans, and the global implications of the gluttony and over-consumption which are all encouraged as a vital part of the all-American holiday season.

It's chastening stuff.

For "What would Jesus buy?" he teams up with producer Morgan Spurlock ("Super Size Me") and director Rob VanAlkemade for that cross country tour. The film is basically a series of stunts, including an unauthorized tour of the Mall of America. There are a lot of polite confrontations with security guards and police officers.

As a piece of cinema it begins to drag after a while. He also doesn't explore the fact that a lot of the US retail industry depends on holiday spending, and if everyone did suddenly stop shopping the entire US economy would do a spectacular face-plant, which would have even graver implications.

However it never does any harm to stop and think "Do we really need that thingummy?"

November 2007
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