Thought-provoking questions about the commercialization of Christmas are drowned out by some silly antics and a lack of emotional appeal in this much-too-long documentary.
I hate Christmas. No, I’m not the Grinch. The holiday itself is a beautiful thing. I like to spend it with people I care about – not necessarily family – and have a quiet day at home, unplugged, eating all that wonderful winter cuisine while enjoying a good Missouri snowfall that can handle a sled or tube.
What I hate is the end-of-the-year shopping madness that infects billions of Americans each year. I can’t stand to walk in a store in August and already see Santa waving at me from the front door. (What happened to All Hallow’s Eve?) And the commercials and mailed flyers and “super deals” that are actually 30 percent above the regular price drive me INSANE. I can’t believe people fall for that pricing crap and don’t finally get enough of the six-month Christmas push to boycott stores until Dec. 1, or better yet, Dec. 24, when stores are so desperate to clear out stock, they offer mega deals you won’t find even after the wrapping paper is balled in the trash can.
The commercial push to pay out for Chinese-made goods in order to be a true Christmas patron is the focus of the 2007 documentary What Would Jesus Buy? The Rev. Billy and his Stop Shopping Choir decide to take a cross-country trip from the east coast to the Promised Land – Disneyland, with an American Main Street made in China. They protest the holiday with quippy songs that use the music of traditional ones, and the reverend’s sometimes overzealous sermons that are too reminiscent of televangelists ready to suck your cash from your wallet to theirs.
Their message is clear: Save yourself from eternal debt by using cash, not credit. Don’t fall into the Shopocolypse – shopping madness. Remember the holiday for its about: Jesus. Support local businesses that provide Made in America products, not mega China-packed retailers like Wal-Mart (The evil Big Box trendsetter I refuse to shop at.), Toys R Us, and Staples. They take their message to city streets and parking lots, where security is quick to send them away, despite many people clapping and nodding their heads in support. (There are several people you can see laughing at them, too.)
When I first started watching the film, I thought it was a docucomedy – sort of the funny side of docudrama. But when the choir’s bus gets rear-ended and several people are injured, the film takes on a more serious note that made me finally realize this was real. (I also confirmed on IMDB, just in case.)
There are some funny aspects to What Would Jesus Buy? They use the Disney font for the title and subtitles, which include “Baby Bling” and “Santa 4 Sale.” The subtitles use funny, tricked out paintings to illustrate the point, like one segment with the three Magi presenting the baby Jesus with credit cards, rather than Mir, Frankincense and gold. They do on-the-street interviews with people falling rapidly into debt because of the pressure to provide the newest, hottest, best and latest gadgets for a holiday that is nothing but a consumer shopping nightmare and a store’s annual revenues salvation. I also liked the shopping confessional they set up on a street corner, where people could share their shopping sins. That was funny.
But the reverend and his posse fall into a little religious fanaticism when they call Mickey Mouse the anti-Christ and crucify him and Minnie on crosses they carry throughout city streets. Some in the choir CRY as the Rev. Billy preaches to the crowds (which made me think this was a Mad TV spoof at first.) During one segment, the reverend tells people to give him their credit cards, and he acts like he gets filled with the Holy Spirit as he is casting out the debt demons. He falls to the ground, prone from the exertion.
While there were parts that were funny, the film just didn’t offer an emotional staying power to keep me interested for more than an hour and a half. It was also too repetitive. I mean, seriously, how many malls do we have to see them get kicked out of to get it? The film could have been done in 45 minutes, max. The DVD did not offer extras, and if they really wanted to make a difference, it should have included some study guide extras for Sunday school or small group classes, discussing the pros and cons of the holiday, budgeting and supporting American businesses.
What Would Jesus Do? has a good message that just gets lost.