Come to the Be-In

I just finished watching the coolest fucking documentary! It's called What Would Jesus Buy?, made by the same guy who made Super Size Me. It's about Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping, a church choir combined with performance art and political activism. The film follows their month-long tour across America to stage demonstrations/performances/protests at malls, Wal-Marts, Targets, Starbuckses, the Las Vegas strip, and the Mall of America, all during the Christmas holidays. They even visit (and protest inside of) Disneyland.

And as I was watching it, I realized the hippies are still with us! This is exactly what the hippies believed in, a rejection of consumerism and materialism, a return to valuing people above things, a return to humanity, a search for transcendent truths. At one point in the film, Reverend Billy and his choir are exorcising a Wall-Mart, and afterward he says he really thought they were gonna be able to levitate the Wal-Mart to show the strength of their message. A parallel event happened in October 1967 when the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam gathered 35,000 people in Washington D.C. to try and levitate the Pentagon. (In Hair, Sheila was at this event at the Pentagon.)

There's a playfulness about Reverend Billy and his Stop Shopping Choir, but there's also a deep seriousness underneath it all, a serious call to reject the addiction of consumerism, to stop feeling "forced" to go into debt every Christmas. It's a playfulness mixed with seriousness that is found in the hippie culture of the 60s as well -- and in Hair. In fact, it's not hard to see Berger in Reverend Billy -- charismatic, charming, equal parts shaman and bullshit artist.

The one moment in the movie that really grabbed me was outside a Wal-Mart somewhere out West. The choir is passing by the front of the store and there's a young couple there with a baby and a toddler. The father asks Reverend Billy to bless his baby, and so with back-up singing from the choir, Billy blesses the child and prays that she won't be afflicted with the curse of consumerism. It's both funny and really moving, and it reminded me how dangerous our brand of consumerism is to our health and happiness, both collectively and individually. It's obvious that this moment re-energizes Billy but it also makes you stop and think seriously about what they're preaching. Jim Wallis, minister and publisher of the excellent Sojourner magazine, says it all in the film: "Christmas is supposed to shake the world up!"

And so is Hair.

They're right, after all, Reverend Billy and his friends. For the first time since the Depression, Americans have negative savings. The Rev says we're lost in "the valley of the shadow of debt!" We've been hoodwinked and victimized. (Well, actually, when I say "we" I really mean "you," since I gave up credit many years ago, and it was mostly voluntary -- with only one exception in the meantime, to get a car.)

And there's the connection to Hair. The hippies in Hair are right too. Marijuana and sex are gifts from God and war is always wrong. But to understand that, your mind has to be opened ("wide, wide, wide") and not too many people know how to do that. Not yet.

Maybe Hair will help.

On with the Groovy Revolution!