State of the Arts
What Would Jesus Buy? That's the cheeky question posed by a new documentary produced by Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me). It chronicles the performance-art-cum-activism of Reverend Billy, a New Yorker who invades big-box stores in full evangelist regalia to preach against . . . shopping.
The film, which starts this Friday at Merrill's Roxy in Burlington, mixes footage of the Reverend — otherwise known as artist Bill Talen — with talking heads who offer commentary on American consumerism. Two of them are familiar to Vermonters — Ripton eco-writer Bill McKibben and part-time Hardwick resident and Seven Days columnist Judith Levine.
Levine was a natural choice for the doc: Her most recent book is Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping, which Talen extolled in a review for The Times of London. Still, Levine's commentary goes by pretty fast in the film: "I'm in it almost subliminally," she says. Though she calls Talen "brilliant," she isn't 100 percent on board with Rev. Billy's gospel.
"I think stop shopping is an impossible message to get people to listen to," Levine says in a phone interview. "Especially at Christmas time, when things are both worst and best. People are shopping because they love other people and want to show their love. And they're also shopping because they feel like they have to. Consumption is always both a burden and a pleasure . . ."
The documentary had trouble finding a distributor, and has received mixed reviews for its strong slant. Despite her disagreements with Talen, Levine recommends it as "funny and uplifting." If nothing else, she says, WWJB will start conversations about how Americans can "have the restraint we need in order to save our Earth and have a sustainable environment, and also not get ourselves deeply into debt."