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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

What Would Jesus Buy

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Jacqueline Monahan

What Would Jesus Buy

Las Vegas Round The Clock - http://www.lasvegasroundtheclock.com
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
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This pseudo documentary begs that question during the most consumer-driven season, Christmas. Apparently, the Messiah would be torn between a Wii, an Xbox 360 and a PS3. Turns out, Our Lord is a capitalist.

“I don’t think He’d buy anything from Staples,” the fictional Reverend Billy (Bill Talen) bullhorns to a crowd of spectators. Not so fast. Didn’t He say “Go forth and multiply?” For that He’s going to need a good office supply source just for the copier issues.

Morgan Spurlock (Supersize Me) produced and Rob VanAlkamade (Preacher with an Unknown God) wrote and produced this tale of a fictional reverend on a mission to bring meaning back to Christmas through his ministry dedicated to stop mindless, sheep-like shopping in America. People (or sheeple), he asserts, must become more aware of their behavior and stop the lock-step progression into debt and meaningless ownership.

Reverend Billy and his Stop Shopping Gospel Choir travel by bus throughout the U.S. warning shoppers of the dangers of malls. Walt Disney type print graphics identify destinations. Jittery hand held camera shots lend an air of realism. Wal Mart, Target and Starbucks are particular points of contention. Times Square is a glaring example of Disney-fication, where crucified Mickey and Minnie plush toys are carried through the streets as example of modern gods.

The “Shopocalypse” is here, Reverend Billy proclaims. Consumer debt is rampant, and mindless shoppers are totally ignorant of the origin of their products. Mall of America and other mega malls earn a visit from the good Reverend’s bus. Segments of conscience explore sweat shop conditions and pay (10-14 cents an hour for seven-day, nineteen-hour shifts in Sri Lanka). Searching for where the products come from and under what conditions some third world people work is explored, enlightening some female teens in a sobering way.

Caroling through the night, the choir sings altered hymns which illustrate America’s over consumption and acquisition mindset. People smile politely and try to sing along. They will close the door and go back to their online catalogs and SUV forays to early bird sales on electronics. The choir has real singing and dancing talent. Bright red robes could either signify the blood of Christ or the color of debt. When they buy, it’s American-made products for the higher quality of life enjoyed by workers here.

Harassment by law enforcement is intercut with prayer meetings, gospel sessions with original lyrics and the best footage of all, that of Rev. Billy getting passionate about the dangers of overspending. The flaxen-haired, charismatic preacher is into theatrics, grand gestures, falling to his knees and blessing everyone in his path. The dedicated choir, all fervent converts to the anti-commercial cause, supports their man with raised hands and enthusiastic “Amens.”

Statistics abound. The U.S. has gone from a country of producers to a country of consumers with long term debt to show for it. This causes 5 million tons of extra waste, burdening landfills. American stores can easily hold the populations of North America, South America and Europe combined. The U.S. population is in 2-4 trillion dollars of consumer debt with the average household owing $13,000 to credit cards.

Scenes of incredible shopping stampedes and violence make the point visually.
The ad libbed cops are real, forbidding filming at every turn, becoming part of the project (and problem) themselves in the process. Children show off their possessions, even admitting that they have too many, but still wanting more.

A shopping confessional for the reverend to hear consumer sins is erected on the street. One woman enters to confess a shopping sin, but it’s one of vandalism. She can’t remove a piece of clothing that she’s squeezed into, so she cuts it and hides the crime. That’s what she’s sorry for; she’ll continue to shop, thank you very much.

There are store clerk horror stories of being spit on, cursed out, and physically attacked due to sold-out items. One man, suffering from a gunshot wound and spitting up blood, was only concerned with clerks removing his wallet so he could purchase a PS3. At least he’s got his priorities straight. There are interviews with teens who say they dream of malls and don’t think about where items are manufactured because it’s” too mind boggling.”

Paintings which separate the film’s segments make tongue-in-cheek points. One depicts the Madonna and Child holding a Tickle Me Elmo; another shows Jesus holding a lamb amid a field of Baa-ing SUVs and the title The Malling of America.

Disneyland is held up as an artificial dream. Reverend Billy is arrested there and goes happily to jail for his cause. Seems no one but Disney employees can sing on the premises.

Bill Talen, a real-life actor/comedian, relishes the role of Reverend Billy to the point of blurring reality with pretense. Talen seems like he’s having fun all the way through this romp and is fearless in his zeal, even getting down on his knees at a gas pump to ask forgiveness for using fossil fuel. You’ll either want to board this guy’s bus or hustle your kids out of his path. He will make an impression either way.

A voiceover near the end of the film suggests giving gifts of time, love and oneself as an alternative to purchasing “things” to show regard. I think even Jesus Himself would buy that.