"The Shopocalypse is coming! Who will be $aved? Let me exorcise your credit cards! Changellujuah!"
So go the pithy exhortations of "Reverend Billy"—the charismatic, feather-ruffling rebel at the center of the new documentary, What Would Jesus Buy? The film, which opens in limited release this Friday, takes a unique look at the epidemic of over-consumption in America, most egregiously evident during the Christmas shopping season—which begins in earnest next week. Reverend Billy and his "Church of Stop Shopping" are on a mission to apply the WWJD ethos to our shopping habits—forcing audiences to consider the implications (for themselves and for the world) of what they consume.
Lest the name confuse you, it should be made clear: Reverend Billy is not an ordained minister and doesn't even call himself a Christian. The preacher persona is simply a stage name for Bill Talen, an actor-turned-activist from New York City (via San Francisco). Talen grew up Dutch Calvinist in Minnesota but left the faith as a teenager. He adopted the "Reverend" title in 1997 as a way to creatively protest America's increasingly excessive consumerism and corporate homogeneity (with Starbucks, Wal-Mart, and Disney being his version of the "axis of evil"). What began as his solitary street "preaching" in Times Square (the "Stonehenge of billboards") soon became a "ministry" of sorts—the Church of Stop Shopping.
The "Church" is really more of a performance art/activist group—a volunteer nonprofit community comprised of fifty singers and an eight-piece band. Though several members of the "gospel" choir are preachers' kids, the group does not claim Christian orthodoxy. The songs they sing may sound like holy ghost-inspired Jesus ...1