Saturday, November 24, 2007

Merry Chri$tma$

"Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends.... Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts." -- Henry David Thoreau

"Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need." -- From the movie Fight Club, based on the novel by Chuck Palahniuk

'What would Jesus buy?' film asks:

Buy Nothing Day is getting a Jesus jolt.

New York-based performance artist Bill Talen assumes the persona of Reverend Billy, often accompanied by a gospel choir, to use the histrionics and cadences of a televangelist (think Jimmy Swaggart) in an anti-consumerism effort to convert people to his "Church of Stop Shopping."

And for this year's Black Friday shopping frenzy, Talen is upping his profile with a colorful campaign promoting a new documentary film about his efforts, "What Would Jesus Buy?"

It will feature "Four Horsemen of the Shopocalypse" riding down Madison Avenue in New York and "elves on strike" at the Grove outdoor mall in Los Angeles, said Morgan Spurlock, who produced the film.

Spurlock, known for placing himself in uncomfortable situations in 2004's "Super Size Me" and his "30 Days" TV series, isn't going with the immersion technique for this project.

"I've unplugged, man," Spurlock said this week. "I've started to walk away from this idea of getting credit card after credit card to get people more gifts."

Spurlock says the campaign and film should appeal to conservative Christians as well as to those on the political left.

"People on both sides of the fence can agree on one thing, and that's that the holiday's gotten out of control," he said.

"We've been convinced that the way to show your love for someone is by what you buy them, by what the price tag is, by what is represented on the receipt. And that's the wrong message to send out," he added.

A review of "What Would Jesus Buy?" in "Christianity Today" questioned whether Talen's act, poking fun at both religion and consumerism, went too far.

"Yes, it's condescending. Yes, it cheapens Christianity," the magazine said, before concluding: "But the whole argument of the film is that our commodity culture has already cheapened Christianity."

Buy Nothing Day was conceived by artist Ted Dave of Vancouver, British Columbia, in 1992, and since then has been championed by Adbusters magazine, said Adbusters campaign manager Paul Cooper.

"It started off as a bit of a joke," said Adbusters editor-in-chief Kalle Lasn. "Environmentalists are really the core base of this movement. But after that there were religious people that came on board."

Cooper calls the day an "open source" event for all types of performance artists and activists. Any effort that generates thought about shopping and consumption is encouraged. Last year, one group wandered into stores wearing shirts that advertised 50 percent off everything in the store.

"There are a lot of people who don't like this weird tradition of hectic shopping and frenzied and angry crowds the day after Thanksgiving," Cooper said.

I'm hardly an off-the-grid type and certainly have not divorced myself from consumerism, but spectacles like Black Friday and the disgusting trend of stores putting up Christmas displays around Halloween sure makes one wonder what's it all about. I'm an atheist, but I can appreciate the complaint of some Christians that the point of Christmas has been lost. That "point" for them obviously relates to Christianity. My "point" is friends, family, food. Either way, the corporate, debt-producing, environment-wrecking, nausea-inducing Holiday season is not the answer for anyone. And any church, any leader, any media outlet or any acquaintance that tells you it is doesn't deserve your attention.

I'm sure I'm a raging hypocrite and you could probably find inconsistencies in my position over the years (probably on my own blog), but I'm trying. I'm still buying gifts but opted for Black Friday shopping in my skivvies, sitting at my computer. I'm going to try to buy local or used as much as possible. If not local, then non-profit, fair-trade, or organic.

Celebrate Christmas any way you want. Give gifts to friends and family if you can and because it makes you feel good, not because you feel society is requiring you to.

For like-minded people, here's a site with some great alternatives:

Buy Nothing for Christmas

"Who covets more, is evermore a slave." -- Robert Herrick

"The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other. It is not, as poverty was before, the result of natural scarcity, but of a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich. Consequently, the modern poor are not pitied... but written off as trash. The twentieth-century consumer economy has produced the first culture for which a beggar is a reminder of nothing." -- John Berger


greatwhitebear said...

". Either way, the corporate, debt-producing, environment-wrecking, nausea-inducing Holiday season is not the answer for anyone."

Unfortunately, debt production, environment wrecking, and nausea inducement are not limited to the Holidays. It is the American way!

Laura said...

Imagine the Evangelicals and the Leftists on the same page about something! Granted, real Christians would be on the economic left for a great many more issues if they actually thought them through but that's beside the point.

Yes, I am just SO tired of all this commercialist crap. I nearly throw things at the TV when I see commercials for Christmas crap now.

It's sickening.

dbackdad said...

GWB - Too true, too true. Good to hear from you. How are things in the colder climes?

Laura - It sure seems like Jesus was implying a more modest life than the one we live. And there are evangelicals Christians, like Jim Wallis, that believe in the concept of social justice. But there aren't enough Jim Wallis'.

Laura said...

Exactly. I still keep meaning to pick up Wallis' book and another book called "Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger". There are far too many Christians wrapped up in the wedge issues that they forget the overall meaning of Christianity. Either that, or deep down, they're just too self-centered to live the kind of life Christ really espoused.