Buy Nothing Day is getting a Jesus jolt.
Performance artist Bill Talen assumes the persona of the Rev. Billy, often accompanied by a gospel choir, to use the histrionics and cadences of a televangelist (think Jimmy Swaggart) in an anticonsumerism effort to convert people to his “Church of Stop Shopping.”
And for today’s 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 “elves on strike” at the Grove shopping center in Los Angeles and “Four Horsemen of the Shopocalypse” riding down Madison Avenue in New York, 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 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, which takes place today in North American and Saturday internationally, was conceived by artist Ted Dave of Vancouver, Canada, 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 Kalle Lasn, Adbusters’ editor in chief. “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 event for all types of performance artists and activists.
Any effort that generates thought about shopping and consumption is encouraged to take part in it. Last year, one group wandered into stores wearing shirts that advertised 50% 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.