Listener/Volunteer Kurt Gottschalk checks in this morning with this report:
This Friday, What Would Jesus Buy?, a new documentary about Rev. Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping, opens Friday at Cinema Village in Manhattan. It's a good movie and a great titular question. If He were here today, what would Jesus buy?
Director Rob VanAlkemade puts the question to a preacher and to people on the street, and gets no definitive answer (most popular response: an Xbox). Rev. Billy might not have the answer either, but he's still on a mission: to stem rapid, vapid consumerism. The film follows him from his solo guerilla attacks on the Disney store in Times Square a decade ago, preaching the stop-shopping covenant until forcibly removed, up through last year's two-bus US tour, culminating in an infiltration in the white-buttoned belly of the beast, a Christmas Day surprise sermon at Disneyland.
Billy's an enigmatic performer and gives his all in his anti-corporate services, healing the sinful consumers in his audiences and performing exorcisms on shopping center cash registers. But the backbone of the show is the choir's hymnal. The songs are clever without being pedantic or sarcastic, effectively fitting the tent-revival of the show.
The most effective scene of the movie shows three teenage girls Googling labor conditions in the sweatshop plants where their designer clothes are made. It's the one scene that puts a proactive spin on the anti-consumerist spiel. If Jesus were to come down to Earth (for the first or second time, depending on how you count), where would he buy his sandals? Union shops? Worker-owned cooperatives? Thrift stores and flea markets? As advocates, they could be doing a lot more to tell people what to do, not just what not to do. But as entertainment, Rev. Billy's show and VanAlkemade's film are good entertainment.