TAKING THE $ OUT OF CHRI$TMA$
published May 27, 2008
What Would Jesus
released by Arts Alliance America
running time 91 minutes + bonus features
“What would Christmas itself look like? How would we wrap it?” Valid questions raised by Reverend Billy of the Church of Stop
Shopping. He and his Stop Shopping Gospel Choir set out on a four week December tour of the United States. Their mission is a modern type
of pilgrimage, in hopes of interrupting the culture of shopping.
As the most shocking stocking stuffer since the Red Hot Chili Peppers EP, What Would Jesus
Buy? is a hilarious road film of extreme optimism. Cameras follow Reverend Billy and his choir as they spread the gospel and help
everyone in their path in saving Christmas from the ‘shopocalypse.’ Both supremely theatrical and yet endearingly charismatic in his
faithful conviction, Reverend Billy and company are a sort of lounge act, with heart. They make protesting fun.
At first glance one might mistake this documentary for a mockumentary, for it has all the makings of a farce. The reverend
(resembling a cross between Mickey Dolenz and the guitarist from Poison), enters a gift shop wielding a huge plush crucified Mickey Mouse.
“Macy’s and Bloomingdales have jails now! People, tourists, listen to me. Mickey Mouse…” (dramatic pause) “…is, the, anti, Christ! We have
to start our own church that isn’t about the worship of the retail moment.” Then as the reverend is led by security into a van, “Stop
Studies have shown that three quarters of the United States view Christmas with more dread than anticipation, yet we’ll spend a
half trillion dollars on Christmas. 60% of us are in long term debt on our credit cards and over 15 million may be addicted to shopping.
Children absorb nearly 40 hours of media exposure a week while meaningful conversation with their parents will total less than 40 minutes.
These statistics might be a bit inflated. Even so, they are cause for concern.
En route to Mall of America (the world’s largest indoor shopping center with 4 miles of storefront, its own college campus and
police force), the Church get derailed when their bus is hit by an 18-wheeler big rig. Despite a portion of the choir having to visit the
ER, the Church are unstoppable, commanding its main stage. Then it’s onward and upward to Wal-Mart’s headquarters as Reverent Billy
attempts to exorcise evil from a Wal-Mart billboard. He even baptizes a baby girl in a parking lot. After causing a commotion on
Disneyland’s Main Street, we meet a man who tells of the violence behind the manufacturing of Disney merchandise. He says that in Sri
Lanka, when factory workers tried to organize a union, they took the union leader out of the factory and broke his kneecaps. Stories such
as these are told to shed light on the perils of consumption and consumer frenzy that make everything a thing – even Jesus. What oddly
appropriate messengers – this New York City performing activist group whose actions are unpopular and yet completely necessary.
chadmenville @ stageandcinema.com