A documentary about commercialism

Written by S. Bowyer

 

  

     Every year worldwide, every person asks themselves, what does x person want for Christmas? We factor in what they spent on us, how much we have to spare, what their likes and dislikes are, what gifts they'd receive from others, and what would make them most impressed. One of the key factors that doesn't always go into the decision, particularly in some cultures, is how much debt it will cause. In this documentary, parody Reverend Billy speaks of the Shopocalypse, where Americans in particular spent millions on gifts. The annual debt due to over-spending is estimated in the trillions. Reverend Billy and his congregation speak out against the buy now, worry later mentality many societies have fallen into. Included in the discussion is the trend of credit card companies issuing new credit cards in the mail despite the debt the homeowner might have already accrued.

     Produced by Morgan Spurlock (Supersize Me fame), this satirical journey of the Stop Shopping Gospel Choir travel America as they deliver the truth of over-indulgence.  While packed with amusement, the film does give insight into spending trends, long-held beliefs of christmas shopping, and the extremes people reach in order to achieve happiness during Christmas. However, their message isn't wholeheartedly agreed with, sometimes law enforcers called to diffuse their protests. The credits feature the more serious reactions the congregation faced upon their journey.

     The documentary seemed a little confusing at times. While their message is stop shopping and spending so much debt on christmas presents, they also frown on Walmart and such stores that offer budget items. The message of Jesus Christ wanting people to aim for basic requirements without too much luxury seems symbolic in shopping for discount stores, where expense and perfection is second consideration. Their aim is to highlight the ideas that products in these stores are made by sweat shops in other countries, where people are said to be punished and injured while creating the toys. However, such bad conditions have been questioned, such as Penn and Tellers' expose, showing that sweat shops are given a worse reputation than they deserve. Additionally, people who work in sweat shops would have less chance of employment if they were instantly shut down. While it is recognised that some sweat shop conditions can be upgraded or overhauled, closing them down would affect their communities negatively, and avoiding stores that stock their items could be considered sending communities backward. Instead, it might be suggested that effort to boycott stores might be better directed into improving sweat shop conditions -- if they are of questionable levels.

     Despite its serious undertones, the movie does make one feel festive, including choir music that is well-written and performed. The joyful Christmas music puts the viewer in the spirit of celebrating, while offering new lyrics to classic songs.

 

Pack the malls with folks with money
Fa la la la la, la la la la
Tis the season to be dummies
Fa la la la la, la la la la
Squeeze our fat in Gap apparel
Fa la la, la la la, la la la
Buy some junk for cousin Carol
Fa la la la la, la la la la
Joy to the world! In the form of goods!
Consume! Consume! Consume!
Bright plastic this and thats!??
For screaming little brats!
Take the SUV to the mall!
Take the SUV to the mall!
And buy, buy, buy, buy, buy, buy, buy, buy it all.

 

     Reviews offer many different viewpoints on the piece, some applauding and some focusing on the negatives. Brett McCracken of Christianity Today wrote,  "Yes, it's condescending. Yes, it cheapens Christianity. But the whole argument of the film is that our commodity culture has already cheapened Christianity."

     Reviews from public viewers gave more diverse comments. 

     "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." -- JustCuriosity

     "I would hate to be one to judge the Reverend Billy. He might do a Bono and or really make a difference. Or he might just be the lever that lets an ever bigger business concern reinvent itself. That concern, of course, being one of the most powerful financial conglomerates in the USA and the world today: Jesus' church itself." -- Chris Docker

     "This is a great film; well-captured, well-edited, and loaded with moments of unconscionable hilarity. Reverend Billy is both a brilliant pitchman and a devoted activist, and after viewing it, I couldn't agree with his message more. With the holiday season fast approaching, I think you owe it to yourself to learn about the culture of greed that drives our unstoppable shopping, and I would be hard-pressed to think of a better way to do that than viewing this film." -- roevswadeboggs

     "Slow, boring, extremely repetitive. No wonder the Weinstein Company did not buy this. This Spurlock should eat more McDonald's while filming himself, and quit producing. There is no way you can watch this and enjoy. The preacher is a joke. The whole idea is not funny. You can make a 2 minute film with this idea not a feature. I am so sorry I rented this movie. I will never watch anything with the name Spurlock on it. It is completely garbage. Filmmakers like this should be on YouTube and never be granted a distribution deal. The film states that the American Consumers and their shopping are at fault for the current depression when shopping and buying products, making money circulate in the system are the base of a healthy economy." -- George-Anton

     "This film is just another distortion, among many distortions, on the so-called 'sins of consumerism'. Please note that Reverend Billy, an actor (Bill Talen), is nothing more than a bureaucrat against the sins of consumerism. We might want to ask are questions, like: What does 'Reverend Billy' do for a living? How does he make his money? Does he make his living off his tax-deductible organization? How does the Internal Revenue justify this as a tax-deductible church or organization?" -- Len9876

     "While many of the points are made by examining the sermons of the dubiously respectable self-styled "Reverend Billy" and his Church of Stop Shopping, which often makes for laughs, to say it is a comedy does not do it justice. This is a true documentary about a true phenomenon in America and a political organization that seeks to challenge it." --Vivisected

 

     What Would Jesus Buy? is available on many online streaming sites and outlets. 

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