“What Would Jesus Buy?“, the documentary film produced by Morgan Spurlock and directed by Rob VanAlkemade, comes out on DVD May 20
Seems like an appropriate time to share my interview with Reverend Billy. (This being Sunday and all.) Following the thread of my earlier Dieline post about package designers striving to be good, Reverend Billy and his “Church of Stop Shopping” should be of interest to any package designer aspiring to an ethical “higher ground.”
For the uninitiated, Reverend Billy and his congregation stage “retail interventions” in which they enter major retail stores posing as average consumers, only to commit some humorous act of anti-consumerist agitprop: exhibiting tragic symptoms of mass buyer’s remorse, exorcizing cash registers, etc. Box vox attended last Sunday’s Fabulous Worship Service at Saint Mark’s Church where the Stop Shopping Choir performed their rousing, gospel-tinged, anti-consumer-culture anthems and the good Reverend Billy made some compelling points about the insidious way that “shopping” becomes something sacrosanct in this country:
How can we forget after 9/11 Bush/Cheney/Giuliani sang in 3 part harmony: “If you love your country you will go out and shop.” Consumerism says ALL of American life is best run by the market. Security, parks, transportation, emergency response, garbage removal, education… things that we owned and controlled together in our democracy—are in private, for-profit hands. We keep it going by consuming it.
I asked Reverend Billy 4 questions about packaging:
box vox: What your feelings are about retail product packaging?
Reverend Billy: We like pleasing design, of course. The pleasure of life is the pleasure of beauty and that can happen anywhere. It happens that packaging now is a key indicator, tied to shipping, advertising and waste—even the word “package” has become a signifier of the Evil Monoculture!
So it is not the people who design who deserve a scolding—it is all of us—for creating this avalanche of plastic, this hypnosis of advertising that flow from the framing, packaging, carrying and shipping of products. We are the consumers and we have allowed this to get out of hand. It comes down on citizens as unclean manufacturing, as fossil fuel shipping, and after the purchase—as waste. It has become extreme, that’s all.
There is another economy available to us where the packaging is human hands… Farmer’s markets, thrift and barter and swap economies like Craig’s List—there is a growing more home-made economy that doesn’t have to be vacu-packed…
(more photos and Reverend Billy answers 3 more questions after the jump)
box vox: Do recyclable/sustainable packages make consumerism any less sinful, in you view?
Reverend Billy: Yes, of course. Consumerism itself though, we have learned the hard way, is not a ticket to prosperity. The consumer society needs to be balanced with the human society… So packaging is only the problem to the extent to which it keeps the larger system rolling…
box vox: What spiritual advice might you offer to troubled package designers?
Reverend Billy: Start with: We are all consuming sinners, sinful little devils, and we are all troubled packaging designers. I’m a troubled packaging designer when, as a televangelist, I have the stupid grin of too much fundamentalist God on my face! Let’s start with the Jesus idea of radical forgiveness. Let’s forgive each other ahead of time!
box vox: You have several products of your own for sale—(books, audio CD, DVDs)—how do you reconcile selling products with your stand against shopping?
Reverend Billy: We are IN the world. We’ve decided not to isolate. We use the means of being in the world, flying in planes, driving cars, and our songs and sermons go out to the world in the packages. Then, we pressure the movie people to make a “green” DVD, with recyclable packaging, etc. They expect us to preach at them, and they really make the effort. We’re all in this together, and pointing fingers with the hypocrisy scream smacks of that ’ol lack of forgiveness. That humorless self-righteousness is a bad American habit. Social change can come with laughter. We think Jesus could tell a good joke. Amen?
New York Public Library packaging for “Reverend Billy & The Church of Stop Shopping” the 2002 documentary film by Dietmar Post & Lucia Palacios (on left) and the “What Would Jesus Buy” book (on right) purchased at Saint Mark’s Books (shown here with my current book mark)