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Status: Completed

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Short synopsis

WHAT WOULD JESUS BUY follows Reverend Billy and his Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir as they cross America on a mission to save us from the Shopocalypse. Putting the “Odd back in God”, since 1999 Reverend Billy has been praying, preaching and ranting against exploitation, loss of community and corporate perversion of the Christmas Spirit. Banned from every Starbucks in California, Reverend Billy has been arrested over 40 times.

In December, 2005 The Church of Stop Shopping decided to face the festive season head on, and hit the road on a mission to persuade consumers that at Christmastime, it is we who are being consumed.

Long synopsis

From Black Friday to Christmas Day, the feature documentary film, WHAT WOULD JESUS BUY directed by Rob Van Alkemade and executive produced by Morgan Spurlock, explores the commercialization of Christmas in America as Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir cross the country singing and preaching in an effort to save us from the Shopocalypse. Christmastime in America is idealized as a time to worship, connect with our families and friends, and remember what matters most in our lives. But, our holidays and our lives year round have become so commercialized that we often struggle for a connection that is not somehow involved with a corporation, product or event. Americans now spend under 1 hour a week in religious or spiritual time and over 5 hours a week shopping. Our children spend 40 hours a week engaged in media and under 40 minutes in meaningful conversation with their parents. Approximately 15 million of us may be clinically addicted to shopping. And American stores could fit every man, woman and child in North America, South America and Europe inside them at one time. Bill Talen (aka Reverend Billy) was a lost idealist who hitchhiked to New York City only to find that Times Square was becoming a mall. Bill searched his neighborhood for unmediated voices and found them among the often-crazy sidewalk preachers offering absolution and warning of the end times. Seeking to put the “Odd back in God”, one day Bill bought a collar to match his caterer’s jacket and became Reverend Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping, a character who shared Bill’spersonal politics and who quickly became, to his own surprise and concern, a true spiritual leader. Reverend Billy’smission is to save our souls from consumerism and to warn of the impending Shopocalypse. Since 1999 he has been sighted around the world praying, preaching and ranting against corporate exploitation, loss of community, and the theft of our children’s dreams and imaginations by false idols of the Christmas Spirit. Recently, Reverend Billy was issued a court order banning him from every Starbucks in California, and has been arrested over 40 times for conducting cash register exorcisms and various other retail interventions. In the process of his performance activism he has gathered a Stop Shopping Gospel Choir of over 30 people from all walks of life. Together they began presiding over regular revivals and services at a historic East Village church. The Church has helped call attention to many causes, and Bill has unwittingly achieved considerable notoriety as what the NY Times called “America’s weirdest protester. A major concern of the church has been the pervasive notion, especially during the holidays, that to give a gift you need to buy a gift and that love for one another must be negotiated through a sale. So in December, 2005 The Church of Stop Shopping decided to face the Christmas season head on, traveling across the country in two bio-diesel buses, headed for temples of commerce large and small to persuade consumers that at Christmastime, it is we who are being consumed.

The film takes to the road with Billy and The Church, as they visit with Americans bogged down with shopping problems; citizens with strong points of view on the holidays; outspoken preachers, politicians and theologians; wealthy shoppers and the recently homeless; and other consumer specialists who wax enthusiastically on timely issues such as over consumption, consumer debt, labor rights, local economies and the commercialization of childhood.

These excursions provide a perspective far beyond that of one quixotic crusade, while on the road Billy and the choir begin to find themselves frequently embarrassed, disillusioned, exhausted, at risk of arrest in the super malls, and in mortal danger on the highways. As the end of the season approaches the calling is renewed, when the Church of Stop Shopping takes over a corporate owned facsimile of Main Street USA on Christmas Day. As a gift, they sweetly sing to the shoppers there, until they are surrounded and detained by formidable foes. WHAT WOULD JESUS BUY is directed by Rob VanAlkemade and produced by Morgan Spurlock.