What Would Jesus Buy?
What Would Jesus Buy? is a Super Size Me-style documentary-produced by Super Size's Morgan Spurlock-that follows the work of Reverend Billy (born Bill Talen) and his Stop Shopping Gospel Choir during a holiday tour across the country to encourage Americans to buy less. Talen got his start about a decade ago, when he adopted a Southern evangelical preacher's personality and look to fight against the invasion of Disney, Starbucks, and other corporations into his neighborhood, Times Square. Talen failed to prevent the chain-store takeover of Manhattan, but WWJB?, filmed in 2005, shows that, like an evangelical preacher, Talen doesn't get discouraged easily, and his message only becomes more urgent the closer we get to what he calls the "shopacolypse."
WWJB? shows Talen's talent for being obnoxious in corporate places, in-character improvisation, and endless enthusiasm despite the suspicion, voiced most often by Talen's wife and director of the church, Savitri Durkee, that their actions don't persuade anyone to stop, or even limit, their consumer habits. But Talen isn't out to provide answers, as his success is measured by whether he successfully intervenes in the pro-shopping message pushed by media-who rely on advertising to stay in business-and causes people to think about their spending habits. While similar documentaries, such as Michael Moore's, start with a big question ("Why don't we have universal health care?") and proceed to answer it in a methodological, if conspiratorial, manner, WWJB? can't do that because its subject is someone who's preaching to consumers, not trying to understand them.
In spite of this, director Rob VanAlkemade includes interviews with experts on Christmas (no, really) and consumption, and profiles parents and children who are overwhelmed by consumer culture. His answers are slight, and he suggests that only extreme poverty or modern-day asceticism can enable people to fight the deluge of consumerism pushed each Christmas. Even the members of the Stop Shopping Choir are shown delighting in the consumer goods offered at a truck stop they visit while on tour. A more thoughtful movie would have spent more time exploring the reasons for consumption, and less on Talen's theatrical attempt to exorcise Wal-Mart's demons, but its lack of depth doesn't prevent it from being a good antidote to the holiday season. ★