What Would Jesus Buy?
PG (for thematic material and brief mild language)
Have you ever wondered what Jesus would have thought about the current commercialization of his name? What Would Jesus Buy? puts the viewer alongside Reverend Billy as he takes his faithful across the United States seeking to open the eyes of the public to the dangers of commercialism.
The Church of Stop Shopping isn’t as radical as you might expect. Sure, there are humorous elements to their quest to bring America back to its small town roots where a good product was better than a quick buck. Documentary filmmaker Rob VanAlkemade decided the subject was of substantive value and began a trek to accompany the church’s leader Reverend Billy as he targeted Big Box retailers across the country during the Christmas shopping season.
The film is broken into several parts each blended with cross-country trip footage as Reverend Billy interacts with various stores such as Wal-Mart, Mall of America and others. But, its exploration of consumerism isn’t the only concept explored. VanAlkemade also examines related issues such as over-consumption, escalation of debt and the role of sweatshops in retail America.
There was a time when documentary filmmakers took an unbiased eye to the subjects they covered. They were more interested in seeing what was out there and relaying those images to those who couldn’t get there to see it. What Would Jesus Buy? is the latest in a long line of docutainment vehicles that look at important issues but blend in humorous elements to make it more easily palatable to the public. However, that rationale is somewhat flawed as the biased nature of such reporting often leaves some audiences irritated.
However, what VanAlkemade does with What Would Jesus Buy? is terrific. The film is extremely thorough, even if slightly one-sided, but it exposes some very serious issues. It discusses “Made in America” and how it means the goods we buy were made without benefit of sweatshops or forced labor, something that can be said for items that say “Made in” most anywhere else in the world, especially countries with large populations and small economies such as Bangladesh.
When the film discusses over-consumption, it makes excellent points about how young children are being turned into consumers long before they have income with which to buy the goods. These retailers then create life-long customers obsessed with buying the newest and best products simply because it has been deemed normal from an early age. The film then talks about how such trends lead towards the accumulation of debt and the collapse of the economic strength of the American consumer.
And all of this is neatly packaged around the Christmas retail season, the period when retailers finally make it into the black financially while they use the idea of Christmas presents as a reason for people to buy more and thus fill their pocketbooks all at the expense of the American worker.
Curbing spending and living on a budget where credit is used only in emergencies is a difficult task. Many Americans do it on a daily basis while giving up some of the “better” things in life. What Would Jesus Buy? doesn’t just talk about these ills of American society, it also offers advice to consumers on how to rein in spending and buy locally instead of from big retailers. It talks about how to support the American economy by looking at labels.
However, since many of today’s adult consumers and their children grew up with a strong advertising presence on television and in our homes, it is a difficult task to break out of the cycle of spending. I know I have problems still, but with awareness comes responsibility. And if we can learn responsibility, we can stop the Shopocalypse that Reverend Billy preaches about and become a better, more informed and conscientious society.
September 24, 2008