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An examination of the commercialization of Christmas in America while following Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir on a cross-country mission to save Christmas from the Shopocalypse (the end of humankind from consumerism, over-consumption and the fires of eternal debt.) The film also delves into issues such as the role sweatshops play in America's mass consumerism and Big-Box Culture. From the humble beginnings of preaching at his portable pulpit on New York City subways, to having a congregation of thousands - Bill Talen (aka Rev. Billy) has become the leader of not just a church, but a national movement. Written by
Warrior Poets Releasing
What Would Jesus Buy premiered tonight at SXSW in Austin, TX in front a crowd over a thousand people at Austin's Paramount theater. It was very well-received by the crowd. After the premiere, the director, producer Morgan Spurlock, Rev. Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir all appeared on stage to do a song and take questions.
What Would Jesus Buy is a very funny film with a very serious subject (following in the same sort of path blazed by Morgan Spurlock in Super Size Me). The film follows the choir while it tours America between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Both the film and Rev. Billy ask Americans to re-examine their values and really the true meaning of Christmas (and Christianity in America) which should be about God's presence in the world, helping the needy, and loving those close to you. The film implies that in today's America people use Christmas to try to buy love with material gifts rather than to really demonstrate true love to their family and friends. Unfortunately, Christmas has become a celebration not of Christianity, but of America's true religious pagan secular materialism.
The film also takes on the American corporations that exploit Christmas buy selling us junk we don't need. It shows how many Americans are addicted to credit card debt. In particular it takes on Disney and Wal-Mart. It specifically points out the harm done by buying stuff at Wal-Mart that was made by kids working in sweatshops at slave wages in the Third World. It also showed how Wal-Mart undermines local businesses and how Disney markets a world of fantasy and illusion. It does all of in a very humorous manner through satirical singing of Christmas songs and attempting to show people the destructive nature of consumerism. The film is an effective message film with an important lesson that Americans need to hear.
Sometimes the film seemed to bury its message under so much humor that the message seemed to get a little lost amidst the attempt to entertain. It also tended to offer a lot more of a critique of globalization and consumerism without really offering clear answers or solutions. Finally, I think its fair to wonder how effective Rev. Billy's techniques are. Most of the spectators watching their antics looked more befuddled and confused than they did convinced by their message.
Nevertheless, despite these weakness, this is an excellent and important film and I hope that many Americans get a chance to view it and learn from it. It raises more questions than it answers, but just starting a discussion of consumerism would be a step in the right direction.
Incidentally, folks who like this film should also check out the 2006 film (now on DVD) "Freedom Fries: And Other Stupidity We'll Have to Explain to Our Grandchildren" in which Rev. Billy also appears in a cameo role. It links consumerism to American politics and notes the absurdity that after 9/11 Americans were told that the answer to terrorism was to go shopping or the terrorists would win. Both films approach similar issues in humorous ways.
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