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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

What Would Jesus Buy? (review)

What if we all stopped shopping? Not for the basic necessities, obviously, but what if we stopped buying all the useless gadgets and made-in-China junk that we don’t need, that pushes us deeper into debt, that fails to satisfy the inarticulate cravings that send us to the mall on a recreational buying binge in the first place? It’s a dangerous suggestion in an economy that exists as little beyond rampant consumer spending, but there’s not enough of that radicalism here. Documentarian Rob VanAlkemade follows performance artist Bill Talen and his “Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping” troupe — which began as a protest against the “Stonehenge of logos” that turned Times Square into a giant shopping mall in the late 1990s — on a crosscountry Christmas season “revival” tour to save souls in the face of the “shopocalypse” that hits such meccas of thoughtless consumerism as the WalMart HQ in Arkansas, the Mall of America in Minnesota, and Disneyland in Southern California. Oh yes, the cheery anticonsumerist gang is thrown out of almost everywhere they go — the loss of the public town square and the freedom of speech associated with it to the private, corporately controlled space of the shopping mall is an unspoken subtext here. And Talen gets arrested in more places than one: his creative protests, such as hauling around a crucified Mickey Mouse, seem designed to beg for an overreaction of a response. Genuine and meaningful provocateurs like Talen are vital, and his message is a glad one to anymore who abhors the WalMart-ification of America. But there’s nothing new here for the choir to which Talen is preaching, and it’s easy to fall into the hopelessness of Savitri D, Talen’s wife and director of his show, who wonders whether “anyone hears us.” The chance to chuckle at America’s folly is fine… until you start to despair of it ever changing. [Learn more at The Church of Stop Shopping.]


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MPAA: rated PG for thematic material and brief mild language

viewed at a public multiplex screening

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