Before you head out to the mall to do your Christmas shopping, you might want to see What Would Jesus Buy? first. Directed by Rob VanAlkemade and produced by Morgan Spurlock, the documentary opens today in New York before expanding to selected locations nationwide. It follows Reverend Billy and his Church of Stop Shopping Choir on a trek across America as they endeavor to deliver their anti-shopping, anti-materialism, pro-Christmas message, bolstered by most of the trappings of fundamentalist religion. The intent and purpose of Reverend Billy and his followers is not immediately apparent -- I kept wondering, "Are these guys for real?" -- but everyone enjoys the gospel music and the high-spirited show, except security guards, police officers and corporations.
Much of the first hour of the approximately 90-minute film is spent showing Reverend Billy and the choir in action, preaching that a "Shopacalypse" is approaching and that people should stop their mindless shopping. The man who became Reverend Billy arrived in Times Square just before the turn of the century, only to discover that it had been turned into a mecca for shoppers. Observing the street corner preachers who remained in the area, he was inspired to buy a white collar, bleach his hair and start a new church. He adapted the methods of the street preachers and formed a choir of enthusiastic and talented singers. Reverend Billy goes to where the people are, walking into the middle of retail shops and malls and encouraging shoppers to stop what they're doing. His secular gospel appears to be simple: Shopping is evil; stop it.
Director Rob VanAlkemade alternates footage of Reverend Billy and his bus tour with narrated factoids and brief interviews with secular and religious experts, talking about the huge amounts of money that are spent during the holidays, the huge amount of credit card debt that is incurred by consumers, and the powerful addiction to shopping that some people appear to have. There's also a plethora of snippets of children and adults gushing about the presents they want to receive for Christmas, no matter the huge number of toys they already possess.