The lights dim, and a documentary depicting the cross-country journey of a suited male begins. He speaks with an accent and has no problem with causing trouble. “Borat,” the sequel? If only. This is the tale of Reverend Billy and his Church of Stop Shopping’s trek across the nation to end rampant holiday consumerism, or, as he calls it, the “shopocalypse.”
Yet, where Borat’s tale had American teens repeating phrases for months, any person who copies Reverend Billy’s style should be tarred, feathered, or otherwise made to see the error of their ways. “What Would Jesus Buy?” directed by Rob VanAlkemade loses the audience’s interest within minutes, and the monotonous plot barely tries to regain it. It is nothing more than Rev. Billy shamelessly getting his 15 minutes of fame, and one can only hope he is satisfied now.
It starts out, as any proper documentary does, with a montage of media coverage depicting Black Friday riots and other examples of Americans placing a higher worth on material goods than relationships. One reporter even states, “Sometimes she loves her diamond more than she loves her husband.” The documentary seems intriguing. Then Rev. Billy introduces himself.
He makes his major point (stop buying so much stuff for Christmas) known in a matter of minutes, and then, to the audience’s dismay, tells of his plan to travel the country causing trouble in commercial centers. The rest of the movie is equally divided between clips of Billy’s antics, academics twittering away about the problems of rampant consumerism, and shots of trucks driving on the highway. The trucks are only worth noting because they have significantly more screen time than people talking about their desperate struggles with consumerism, which illustrates how important the trucks must have been to VanAlkemade.
About halfway through the movie comes the inevitable bashing of Wal-Mart, but only enough to show one Wal-Mart employee stammering about her benefits. But VanAlkemade doesn’t even give her time to finish, like he expects someone to be persuaded by stage fright. But the main focus of the movie, Billy’s act, is barely more entertaining than this woman. He seems to think dressing as a Southern evangelical pastor and exorcising cash registers inspires change while entertaining. News flash, Billy: They’re laughing at you, and getting in line behind you to buy their holiday junk. There are more effective ways of combating consumerism than making your life a commercial joke.
“WWJB” does manage to make one point beyond the blaringly obvious “Americans spend too much on crap,” and that is that Americans are generally oblivious to where said crap is made and the conditions of the workers making it. There are videos and stories depicting the terrible conditions in Asian sweatshops that are producing the clothing bought by so many consumers at cheap prices. A group of three teenagers is greatly affected by finding information on the conditions, but just as a meaningful point is about to rescue the audience from pure boredom, the focus is back to Billy, lest one forget this movie is about him.
These powerful clips of the sweatshops serve not to strengthen the argument made, but causes one to question why Billy is telling people to stop spending money flat out, instead of converting them into moral spenders. He knows about sweatshop conditions, but this isn’t worth his time when compared with the terrible American evil of, um, using money to buy things?
“WWJB” as a documentary actually does inspire one action to support Billy’s cause: Don’t waste your money to rub Billy’s ego. Do anything else with it. Donate it, invest it, hell, buy worthless crap for your family and friends for the holidays. They’re all better outlets for holiday cheer than this documentary.