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Preaching to People
With Shopping Bags Over Their Heads
- an interview with Reverend Billy/Bill Talen
Natalija Grgorinic & Ognjen Raden
Billy and his Church of Stop Shopping are definitely one of the most
interesting phenomena of the American alternative culture. Founded in New
York in the 90-ies, today they bring together a large group of enthusiasts
from the world of theatre, music and social activism who organize
performances directed against mindless consumerism and aggressive
super-national corporations. Their crusade has a feel of those marathon
religious TV-shows bursting with quotations from the Good Book, sighs of
exaltation and redemption from the audience, heart-breaking hymns and
feats of miraculous healing. The important difference is in the message:
Stop shopping! Stop financing corporate monsters! Platinum blonde Reverend
Billy, the leader of the movement is privately a middle-aged playwright,
Bill Talen who came to New York in search for a job, only to realize that
Broadway somehow got transformed into Las Vegas, completely removed from
any artistic aspirations and values. Thus the Church of Stop Shopping came
to be. Exorcising the unholy spirit from chain stores and arousing
shoppers from their consumerist trance, the Good Reverend and his
Congregation traverse United States, sometimes even on invitations from
schools and universities. In one of their latest undertakings the
righteous Reverend struck the coffee-shop Cyclops, Starbucks Corp. earning
a restraining order for attempted sexual intercourse with one of the
shop's cash-registers. On his web-site (www.revbilly.com)
Rev. Billy offers other ingenious scenarios for sabotaging the
coffee-empire from Seattle. In one of those and ex-convict regresses into
his prison days upon recognizing candies he was packaging while doing
time. In another one a couple of lovebirds interrupt their expressions of
love by important messages from their corporate sponsors.
is an interview with Bill Talen, and his alter ego, Reverend Billy (not
necessarily in that order).
and when was the idea of the Church of Stop Shopping born?
Mickey Mouse-led Disney Company was taking over Times Square where I lived
in the late 90's. "Consumerism" was then actually violent, with
cops jailing neighborhood characters who may have been, apparently,
because they didn't fit the profile, unable to buy things on credit. Only
consumers, tourists, were allowed to walk freely in the new outdoor and
completely extralegal mall called The New Times Square.
Transnational Corporations have adopted what Americans were, the impulse
to travel, expand, kill, establish, wave the flag and move again. It is
not the Americans it is these monsters who create false large persons.
Their shadow freezes us and our bodies are their new continent. But we are
the ones who always have more and that is why they will fail. Our bodies
are great unfathomable continents that the adventurers cannot possibly
cross, the drown in our vastness ---we always have more and finally what
we have left will burn the monsters in their own Lake of Fire.
simply say that to back away from the product you will find Odd and
Wonderful bits of narrative, chromosome coupons, dazzling bits of metal,
old photographs signed by forgotten Country Western stars -- this is all
whirling up through your body. It is like the litter that flies at you and
saves you from emptiness. --- Organized Religions are just another
transnational chain store. We don't need them.
never use the word "Spiritual" because it has been stolen by
dark muggers who never leave the TV screen. We never use the word
"religious" because the Pope and Mickey Mouse are the same
thing, and they say, "I am nothing by myself. I only do what you make
me do." When we use the word God we say the word inside-out, with a
joke on either side -- and we wear body armor.
a $4 latte you buy the Deluxe Color movie of women who rise at 5 AM, go
out into the fields with their children, and return home at 8 PM with $4.
Their children tag along in the wake of the $4, without school or
healthcare, waiting for the unseen hand of capitalism to take them to an
exile in America and a housecleaning job or prostitution. But here in this
country we believe that to buy a $4 latte is to have a very brief
conversation with Sartre or Charley Mingus.
a currently enrolled in a consensual hypnosis and it is really large. You
can't imagine that hundreds of millions would be hypnotized so that they
move together like synchronized swimmers. We sit in traffic jams, stand in
line, sleep with TV's flickering on our hair. You can't believe that this
is happening so blindly with so many people. It's like the Red Army got a
fit of the giggles and they were rolling on the steppes. ----To wake the
Americans up will be very painful and very oh-wow for them... whatever
clothing they are wearing will suddenly not fit. Their parents would turn
into small cubes. Whatever far horizon they were staring at will come to
them like a hand of a dead celebrity around the throat.
good business is where the proprietor sits at the back like a Buddha or a
tea-leaf translator or a uppity multi-gender orphan and when you walk in
you and try to be a customer you are immediately assailed with stories.
God That Is Not A Product will answer that question if you pray to her
without a logo on your body.
American experiment was that the old European monarchies that had the
rights and dispensed privilege would be overthrown and the citizens as
individuals would have the rights, dispensing their privileges through the
government. Therefore churches, families, armies -- all groups -- received
their privileges from citizens. Corporations somehow won the status as
"Persons," -- they jumped across that divide through bribery of
the courts and the government. Now we are beset with this adolescent
monster, this Nero with a B-2 Bomber, and he has a ravenous immoral diet
for the world that no person alone would want.
and I, through our fearless "Exalted Embarrassment." Change a
It really must work. Yesterday I preached in a Starbucks. Today I recited
the Constitution down in Ground Zero. Small groups of people were
scandalized but intrigued too. And I wonder what those breaks in property,
those forced dreams – have in their thoughts now.
is not one single thing. An audience is sighing, giggling, gasping, and
sometimes there is a strong silence. You are setting up a simple dichotomy
with your question that chases reality but never catches it. Humor is not
questions are assuming a static American exits, a Type. The Reverend says,
don't develop any "types" for anyone -- people are far more
complex than that. There is good cooking in England, good gardening in
France, and many Americans, even many Israelis, even many Germans in the
40's, do not accurately satisfy the type that we have created from our
imagined hurts. There are Peace Movements everywhere and we need to reach
know what you mean by the American Dream. You mean the transnational
corporations, which can be Dutch or Japanese. But often American
imitations of James Dean etc. drive the ads. The American Dream that is
embodied in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, the real American
Dream, is a faith in the beauty of individual eccentricity, of localness,
of the spirit that inevitably rises up in us when no single dominator is
allowed. If you commit too much of yourself to the idea of a rapacious
American, then you can slip into imitating it in your resistance. Like the
rock song says, part of resistance is "Learning to Forget."
of me want to love you to life. Part of me want to kill you to love
were important in 1970 and that's not bad. Many of us are only watching.
the point. There is no alternative. So make an alternative. Start by
saving your neighborhood. A healthy neighborhood is radical in the United
States. Where original culture abounds, Peace has a chance.
Ideal societies are a dangerous thing. Let me tell you a story.