I love you, Netflix.
Occasionally, Netflix will recommend something to me that I have never heard of before (see: Black Sheep) that probably doesn’t make it on a lot of peoples’ “Especially for You” lists. “What Would Jesus Buy?” is just such a movie. It’s a documentary about the Church of Stop Shopping, its batshit crazy-brilliant leader, Reverend Billy, and their campaign to infuse meaning back into our lives and break us from the shackles of thoughtless consumerism.
It’s a Morgan Spurlock film, so the same sort of dogged determination that Spurlock embraced as he force-fed himself nutrition-free food for a month is in full swing throughout “What Would Jesus Buy?” Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping Choir and the Not Buying It Band go on tour during the Christmas season, getting thrown out of malls across America (including, of course, the four miles of storefronts that comprise the Mall of America, which I have been to and which is a megalithic blight on our native landscape…I had to leave when I realized that as I was eating, I was watching people take the plunge down the full-size indoor log flume, and I can still hear the echo of the mental snap in my brain that drove me out of the mall at that point, but I digress). They sing about what a waste of time and energy, what a drain on our emotional consciousness, and what a poor substitute shopping is for actual relationships and cultivated interests (reading, having actual conversations, origami, whatever). They warn us of the coming “Shopocalypse”. They baptize a baby in front of a Staples (my favorite line? “Jesus would not buy anything from a Staples.” And really…I would imagine not, even with their Easy Button access). When they have an exorcism outside of Wal-Mart’s headquarters (exorcising the demons of monoculture and consumerism) and work “Tubular Bells” into the soundtrack? Genius. But the piece de la resistance is when Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping choir invade Disneyland on Christmas Day. Billy, of course, gets arrested and the Disney cops threaten the entire choir with arrest; they don’t seem to care that much about the happiness or well-being of the children as they lead Billy off in handcuffs through the Magic Kingdom. For you Harlan Ellison fans out there, I couldn’t help but think of his story about how you do NOT. Fuck. With The Mouse. (Scroll down through the Harlan Ellison link to story #3, Labor Relations, for more details.)
Honestly, for those of us who read the papers, keep politically active, and know what a miasmic blend of exploited overseas workers, discriminatory practices against store clerks (now tacitly OK’d by the Supreme Court) and non-progressive PAC donations big-box stores tend to be, this documentary doesn’t explore new ground so much as it does present a chronic social problem in a really engaging package. And I have to give them serious props for the in-yo’-face conflation of religion and consumerism, as it seems to be something many people are afraid to openly address. When did the holidays stop signifying familial togetherness and start meaning “spend the most you humanly can to prove your love”? Here’s an exercise to take away from this: when you’re Christmas shopping, or planning an elaborate, catered birthday party for a two-year-old, or sacrificing alone time at home with your kids (who fill the empty hours with Mortal Kombat) so you can go shopping for them, ask yourself as you’re browsing the stores, “What would Jesus buy?” If your answer is, “Nothing”, then maybe you need to re-examine your priorities.
It ain’t love, people. It’s just plastics.
I would include the watch this/don’t watch this section, but frankly, I think everyone should give it a watch. Just watch it. Do you have Netflix? You can stream it, it only takes about an hour and a half. It won’t delay your trip to the mall for very long, and maybe it will present you with a much-needed fiscal and emotional challenge. And THE STUFF JESUS WOULD BUY will still be at the mall when you’re done. Promise.