The motto that repeats itself over and over in the documentary What Would Jesus Buy? is "Stop shopping!" Clearly, this is an attention-grabbing statement for what the film really wants to promote—which are the conscientious shopping behaviors that many of us in good, liberal Portland already champion. What Would Jesus Buy? rails against Wal-Mart and the Disney stores, decrying sweatshops and the toll of the big box on independent and neighborhood businesses. It also touches on credit card debt, Christmas' role as an orgy of consumerism, and children as advertisement-damaged robots, plus it squeezes in the occasional pot shot lobbed at SUV drivers.
As the opening montage rolls by—laying out the entirely foreseeable evidence—the camera comes to settle on an irksome scene. In it, "Reverend Billy," a man with a bleached blond pompadour, spouts anti-consumerist statements in an act that apes two parts Baptist preacher and one part Elvis. A choir backs him, singing and clapping and amen-ing as their "Reverend" testifies. As soon as the thought, "God I hope this movie isn't about this guy" popped into my head, I knew that it was, and I was doomed.
It's a good thing, actually, that WWJB? didn't tell me anything I didn't already know about the "cancer of consumerism" and the "malls of worship," because my ability to appreciate the precious few scenes and interviews that were effective contributions to the issues at hand are totally eclipsed by the ubiquitous, obnoxious irritant that is Reverend Billy and his Stop Shopping Choir. The film follows them on a national tour of harassment, as they sing, shout, and, perhaps most embarrassingly, "baptize" infants in the parking lot of Staples. I suppose, in a backhanded way, WWJB? did have a galvanizing effect: We'd better think of an effective way of changing Americans' shopping habits before Reverend Billy sends them all screaming toward Home Depot just to disassociate themselves from him.