Shopocalypse now

Lisa Napoli Nov 16, 2007


Tess Vigeland: All this week we’ve been talking about America’s consumer culture and whether it’s sustainable. It’s a series called Consumed.

Well, just in time for the holiday shopping season, there’s a new film from Morgan Spurlock of “Super Size Me” fame. It’s called “What Would Jesus Buy?”, a look at the life of an activist named Reverend Billy.

Marketplace’s Lisa Napoli has the story.

Lisa Napoli: At a recent revival in New York City, the Reverend Billy and his choir preached the gospel they’ve been traveling around the country to spread.

They drop in to malls and big box stores, dressed in their red flowing gowns as if they’ve just come off the pulpit, singing to the people who’ve flocked to buy, buy, buy.

[Interviewer:] Rev. Billy, what is the mission? What is it you’re trying to tell people?

Rev. Billy: We’re trying to get them to slow down their consumption. Amen. We’re addicted. We’re conflicted, we’re hypnotized, consumerized.

Sometimes Rev Billy goes door to door.

[Woman:] Hello, look at this…

Rev. Billy: Can we sing you a song?

[Choir (singing):] Joy to the world, in the form of goods.
Consume, consume, consume.
Where plastic this and thats,
for screaming little brats.
Take the SUV to the mall.
Take the SUV to the mall.

As you might imagine, the holiday season is a big one for Reverend Billy to get his message across — thus, the timing of the movie release.

Rev. Billy: We want to save Christmas from the Shopocalypse! The shift to the commodification of Christmas, that you have to actually purchase your gift. That shift, which took place slowly over time in American history — somehow gift giving became purchasing.

When Reverend Billy came into the Marketplace studios this week with his wife Savitri, I confessed I am a convert.

Ten years ago, frustrated by the mania to spend money on stuff just for the sake of spending money, I quit buying gratuitous Christmas presents for my family.

Some people find that a bit strange, but not Reverend Billy.

Rev. Billy: Sister Lisa, do you do something in the place of not shopping for Christmas? What else do you do?

Napoli: I go see them.

Savitri Durkee: Exactly!

Rev. Billy: That’s the perfect gift…

Durkee: You are the gift…

Rev. Billy: Your time, your love.

Time, love and an expensive plane ticket.

As the opening of Reverend Billy’s new movie reminds us, not everyone else out there shares this particular holiday philosophy:

[Narrator:] Three-quarters of us view Christmas with more dread than anticipation, yet we’ll spend half a trillion dollars on Christmas this year and create 5 million tons of extra waste.

Of course, consumerism isn’t just confined to the back end of the year. Rev. Billy knows there’s always a need for his gospel.

Like this scene from the movie, where a woman came to him to confess that she goes into the same clothing store every single day to shop.

She fell in love with a dress that didn’t fit and got in trouble:

[Woman:] I wanted this dress so bad and I pulled it up and I got it on. Well I could not get it off. And I had a little key scissors on my keychain and I cut myself out of it, because I didn’t want to embarrass myself and not be able to go back to that store, but I probably shouldn’t have done that.

Rev. Billy: Sister, the fabulous creator that gave you your wonderful body was saying something to you at that moment. Your body destroyed that dress and it did the right thing.

Back at the revival in New York, Reverend Billy asks would-be followers to reconsider their credit cards.

Rev. Billy: Reach down into your purses, reach down into your wallets, get out the plastic now and we will help you; we will preempt that shopping…

Of course, Reverend Billy doesn’t expect that everyone’s going to stop shopping cold, but this holiday season, he’s asking you to think about what you’re buying, where you’re buying it from and why you’re buying it.

[Woman:] It’s for the kids, it’s for the kids. I don’t care if I go broke, it’s for my kids.

You don’t have to attend services at the Church of Stop Shopping to know that you shouldn’t equate love with spending.

Rev. Billy: Hallelujah.

In Los Angeles, I’m Lisa Napoli for Marketplace Money.

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