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March 24, 2008 |

By Dustin Rowles | Film | March 24, 2008 |

Let me hit y’all with some knowledge: Did you know that the average American spends only one hour a week in church service, but five hours a week shopping? What about this: America spends half a trillion dollars every Christmas, creating 5 million tons of extra waste? Or did you know that 60 percent of America is in long-term debt on their credit cards? That our household personal savings rate is below zero? Or that over 15 million Americans may be clinically addicted to shopping? That over $15 billion a year is spent on advertising to children under 12? Or how about this: The average teenager watches over 40 hours of media entertainment per week, but has less than 40 minutes of meaningful conversation with their parents?

In short: We used to be a nation of producers, but now we’re a nation of consumers. That’s the underlying thesis of the Morgan Spurlock produced documentary, What Would Jesus Buy, an examination of the commercialization of Christmas. Unfortunately, beyond the facts set out above, there’s nothing else in WWJB worth visiting. It’s not that I don’t agree that America’s problem with overconsumption isn’t a worthy topic to explore — the need to own “stuff” and buy “things,” especially at Christmas, is one of the leading causes of our current economic woes — it’s just that WWJB goes about it completely wrong. It attacks the wrong people, and the insufferable Morgan Spurlock minion in this documentary somehow manages to be even more obnoxious, braying, and vainglorious than his mentor.

His name is Reverend Billy, and after ten minutes in his presence, you’d sacrifice your own mother to the Tacopus Gods to get out of his airspace. Imagine Jimmy Swaggart crossed with Spurlock combined with the self-righteousness of a Green Party Unitarian PETA vegan who brushes her teeth with that shitty Tom’s of Maine toothpaste, buys recycled toilet paper and home births in her eco-village communal house where her and her 12 dreadlocked roommates take turns cooking tofu stir fry (sorry Ithacans) and you have a rough approximation of how unholy repugnant and invidious this man is. Everything about him makes you want to spite him by renting the largest SUV you can find and driving to the Mall of America and run yourself into $30,000 of credit card debt by clearing the shelves of Spencer’s Gifts and Sharper Image, ensuring that you don’t buy anything that might actually be practical. And when you’re done, you can shove one of those Roomba vacuums up his ass, jam an electric nose hair trimmer through his eye, and then roll over him repeatedly in your band new massage chair! Then, once he’s nice and dead, you can send one of those novelty turds to his funeral along with a gag middle finger with a button you can push that makes it say, “Fuck You” ($7.99 at Spencer’s Gifts — Buy Now!)

I mean, lookit: I’m down on corporate America, credit card companies, and Wal-Mart as much as the next farmer’s market shopping pinko hippie. I loved the documentaries Roger and Me, Maxed Out, and Wal-Mart: The High Cost of a Low Price, in part, because the directors in those movies were attacking the right people, namely soulless executives and douchetastic suits who profit on the weaknesses of Americans.

In What Would Jesus Buy?, Reverend Billy and his “Stop Shopping Church” go on a month-long cross country tour in their goddamn Shopocalypse bus to preach against false idols of Christmas. But, instead of confronting, for instance, Howard Schultz (president and CEO of Starbucks) or Glen K. Murpy (CEO of the Gap), he and his 35-member sanctimonious choir bug the holy living shit out of the wrong people: Regular schlubs just trying to fight the Christmas crowds and buy their goddamn family some shitty tchotchkas so they don’t feel like a giant wienie slurper when they show up to the family dinner without some goddamn aromatherapy oils and bath salts. Answer me this, Reverend: If you really want to make a point about the evils of Wal-Mart, is it necessary barge into one of their Supercenters and harass a little old lady trying to buy her grandson a goddamn Tickle Me Elmo doll? I think your ire is a little misdirected.

Worse, Reverend Billy (real-life “comic” Bill Talen) bases his whole shtick on those NYC street preachers, claiming that they’re the only people anyone listens to anymore (namely, because there’s no choice in the matter when you’re in their vicinity). So, he and his choir knock on strangers’ doors during dinnertime and sing carols about “squeezing fat in Gap apparel” and “avoiding the mob of greedy parents.” Later, Reverend Billy approaches a Starbucks with his bullhorn and badgers folks before they can slurp down enough caffeine to kill the temptation to kick him in the fucking junk. I’m all for arguing a position, but what kind of consumer terrorist goes to Disneyland on Christmas day, screaming “Mickey Mouse is the Anti-Christ!” You’re not going to win a lot of converts in the Magical Kingdom by disturbing the parade and annoying the burger grease out of parents who just spent half their savings to buy their children’s love? This is why, when a semi-diesel plowed into the back of the Shopacalypse bus halfway through the film injuring 13 people, I didn’t feel nearly as bad as I should have.

Indeed, I very much doubt that most people in massive debt need to be lectured at by a wild-haired man in a white suit waving a bullhorn. And while I ultimately agree with the central anti-commercialism message of the documentary, these people not only take themselves entirely too seriously, but they’re preachy sermonism is self-defeating. I hate to allow my hidden conservative streak to show itself, but what the fuck ever happened to personal responsibility in this great land of ours? I don’t need some dipshit to scream in my face and tell me I don’t need a potato scrubber or a fetus-shaped Christmas ornament, but if I want one, well fuck you Reverend Billy. It’s me who will have to deal with the credit-card collectors and the late mortgage payments. Besides, most of us are smart enough not to waste our inflationary, value-starved dollars on crap, and that’s precisely why we oughtn’t waste it on What Would Jesus Buy?

Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives with his wife and son in Ithaca, New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.

Probably a Nice Big Bowl and Some Primo Bud

What Would Jesus Buy? / Dustin Rowles

Film | March 24, 2008 |

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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