DocuMondays – What Would Jesus Buy?


What Would Jesus Buy? (2007, dir. Rob VanAlkemade)

Starring Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir
There’s a huge problem going on in America and it is known as the Shopocalypse, can I get a Change-alujah?! This is the message being preached by faux-preacher/political theater activist Reverend Billy Talen. Now, with his Church of Stop Shopping, he is touring the country promoting the idea of thoughtful consumerism, wherein we make choices based on where products were made and their actual usefulness. During this outing, the group traveled from the East Coast to Disney Land over the Christmas Holiday spreading their message.
I loved much of the the concept of this documentary, however, it has a problem I find common in issue films of this nature. It presents the problem very well, and I am on board with that, but it never really offers a strong solution and seems to wander too much. The filmmaker seems unsatisfied with simply focusing on Reverend Billy or actually taking piece of his “sermons” and expanding on them Super Size Me Style. In that film, Morgan Spurlock would take an idea (children’s nutrition, usage of sugar) have his bit relating to it in his experiment and then expand upon it with interview of experts and people suffering from the after effects of a process food product. There are moments that come close to that here, but ultimately fall flat.
The film hits the targets you would expect it to: Wal-Mart, Disney, Starbucks. And the bizarre sermons are quite humorous. What the film needed was a strong grounding in anti-consumption message with statistics. It needed to hit three areas strongly: Pollution, Conditions in Third World Countries, and Long-Term Economic effects of spending. The director grazes these ideas so briefly that he shouldn’t have even bothered. It’s interesting how violent authorities become when Reverend Billy and his crew start talking about people ending their unchecked spending. Before anyone is aware of their message, most people seem confused and bit amused. Once the sermons about not giving into the Want impulses drilled into your brains, the security guards and police show up and become quite rough.
Because of the title, I think the film should have centered on rabid consumption juxtaposed against the teachings of Jesus. Once, he’s mentioned in a very interesting way by a question of when was the only time Jesus became violent. The answer being in the Temple when he saw the money changers and lenders. I found it interesting that I had never contemplated his one act of aggression coming towards others in relation to people seeking to profit off of others and using the religion to do so. What Would Jesus Buy? is an interesting film, but remains constantly on the surface and never tries to breakthrough.
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