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What Would Jesus Buy?

by Laura Flanders

There is one thing the Church of Stop Shopping's Reverend Billy wants you to buy this season: a ticket to his new movie, "What Would Jesus Buy." Make that purchase now and you'll add anti-media-monopoly oomph to your personal buying-power.

Writes the Reverend: "Every one of you who make it to the movies today dramatically increases the chance we can take the Stop Shopping message to Tulsa, to Long Island, to Cheney, Washington."

What Would Jesus Buy (WWJB) which opened this weekend in limited release, is a loving celebration of Reverend Billy's anti-Shopocalypse crusade. "We want people to buy less and give more," says Billy, (aka performance artist, Bill Talen.) With his wife and co-conspirator, Savitri Durkee and their 40-person Stop Shopping gospel choir, Talen's been preaching against commercialism since before "malling" became a frightening verb. The film, directed by Rob VanAlkemade and produced by Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) follows Billy and his church-mates as they travel the country on a pre-Christmas anti-shopping tour.

Singing to the angels of anti-acquisition, they ride the escalators at the Mall of America. Facing down their demons, they're tormented in the trinket-store. When the bio-diesel in the tour-bus freezes, Billy gets down on his knees for forgiveness as he pumps the evil oil. ("Hallelujah Brother" he hails the truckers from the floor-court floor.)

The reverend's ordination my be community (not church) bestowed but his following is real enough. The Church of Stop Shopping is sanctified by a feisty, fun-loving and spiritually hungry anti-consumerist congregational rabble based in the East Village of New York. Billy's protests have cost him prison time. He's exorcised cash-registers at Starbucks (for the sin of killing the family coffee shop.) He's preached to protect public space from developers. He's married the un-marry-able and crucified the devil (Mickey Mouse) on a portable cross in Disney-Time Square.

As with a Stop-Shopping performance, so too, the movie's tone is comedic. But there are moments that speak to the heart, as when, exhausted after another seemingly fruitless wail against Wal-Mart, Durkee sighs:

"I just want what we do to have some impact on someone soon." That spoke to my longing, and I bet yours.

Now, whether they like it or not, the Church of Stop Shopping is taking on cinema's corporate consolidators. As producer Spurlock told the audience opening night in New York, Wal-Mart has a 50 percent corner on the nationwide DVD market. That makes WWJB a distributor's nightmare. So Spurlock et al are on a grass-roots marketing mission to break into the market through force of sales. If opening grosses are impressive enough, the movie will be playing on screens around the country in time for the Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year.

It USED to be Friday. This year, the tech-chain CompUSA will start the post-Thanksgiving shop-a-looza while the turkeys are still raw. (They'll hold an online only sale starting at 12:01 Thanksgiving morning.) The chain, and others like them, say they aren't trampling on the give-thanks holiday by reminding us of what we lack. They're just offering "another option" for starved, deal-hungry consumers," CompUSA spokesperson Jessica Nunez told the New York Times.

What do we need? Change-a-lujah! There's no better time for the humanity-hungry human to go to the movies and pray with the not-just-a prankster preacher for save-our-souls radical change.

Laura Flanders is the host of RadioNation and the author of Blue Grit: True Democrats Take Back Politics from the Politicians, out now from The Penguin Press.

Copyright © 2007 The Nation

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