[New York, December 18, 2012] Even for New York, this was WEIRD. There were a half dozen Santa Clauses on Second Avenue getting a sermon from a Midwestern preacher who looks like a cross between televangelist Jerry Falwell and a white-haired Elvis.
The Santa Crew and their mini-skirted elves were on their way to get drunk (drunker?) with another thousand Santa impersonators at “SantaCon,” an annual gathering of St. Nicks. But they were willing to let the Reverend Billy attempt to save their souls.
Reverend Billy did not object to their plans for lubrication, but to their original Sin: collaborating with the Devil's work known as “Christmas Shopping.”
Was this some kind of joke? Yes, and a brilliant one.
Reverend Billy, pastor of the Church of Stop Shopping, is the Stephen Colbert of American hyper-commercialism. For more than a decade, the Reverend has been bringing Americans the Good News that there is life after Wal-Mart.
“Repent and give up your iPod to the Lord! Steve Jobs is not the iSaviour!” The Santas, cracked up as, one by one, they got the joke.
Like Colbert, the Reverend is never seen out of costume nor out of character. In his reversed collar, bouffant hair-do, white pointy shoes and Elmer Gantry suit, he has, in fact, performed 200 for-real baptisms, as many marriages — and been arrested 70 times.
In May of this year, while preaching at the opening of the David Koch Theater in New York, the Reverend was seized by four unknown assailants and hustled into a black, unmarked car. (He soon found out these were Koch's hired goons working with NYC police. So, It was back to jail until a judge with a sense of humor sentenced him to 20 minutes of preaching in front of the courthouse.)
Apparently, the Kochs did not repent.
Won't the economy collapse if we don't buy, buy, buy at Yuletide?
“This economy MUST collapse,” he said. Commercialism “makes us stupid” ”“ and worse. Sitting in the front booth at the window of my favorite diner, his sermon was drawing a little crowd.
“Advertisements are THREATS.”
To explain, he noted that on the TV bolted on the wall above the cashier, a chat show host was talking about the gunman who killed 26 kids and teachers in Connecticut this past Friday. The killer was described as, “a loner, isolated.”
And what is our society's proposed cure for painful isolation? The answer was in the news show's Christmas ads: Buy stuff. The advertisers were telling us how to express love and how to measure the success of our few years on earth. But more sinister than convincing us to buy disposable sweatshop junk, was the subliminal threat, terrorizing us for failing to imitate the grinning guy in the commercial — odor-free, surrounded by loudly laughing models, fashionable according to a marketers' idea of fashion, and marked with Nike's swoosh logo.
[The Reverend doesn't wear a cross – “just another logo.”]
“The ads are telling us that if we don't surround ourselves with their stuff, we are loners, we're oddities, freaks, unhappy, and, in fact, dangerous, to be avoided. Different, outside, not part of the party. This is violence masquerading as market democracy.”
So what, then, do we do for the holidays if we don't follow the commands of the commercials?
“Commercials are signals from the wrong Christ. If you love someone, MAKE LOVE to them.”
But how do you put a hard-on under a tree?
“OK. Take them for a hike on the Appalachian Trail! YOU DON'T HAVE TO BUY TO GIVE!” The minister manque raised his voice to the heavens — and had to be shushed by shoppers in the next booth.
The Reverend had a long list of alternatives to One-Click Christmas. (This is the perfect place for a commercial break, and Rev. Billy obliged without asking: “You could donate to Greg Palast's Fund for a friend,” he said, “so each week they'd get a gift of real news.” Amen to that!! Click here: All donations tax-deductible.)
I took the Reverend's message to my twins. They wanted to give their mom an iPad. That is, they wanted to use my credit card to buy an iPad on-line and have it shipped to her.
I said, “I really think she'd prefer something from the heart.”
This was met with retching sounds and disgusting suggestions involving buying beef hearts by the pound from the Halal butcher.
We settled on their taking Mom to a play she'll like (and they swear in advance to hate). And, after only a few threat-tinged hints, they wrote up their own note to her rather than go down to CVS to buy a greeting card with a statement of affection written by one of Hallmark's minimum-wage poets.
If you want to catch the Anti-Claus in action, the Reverend and his 35-voice Church of Stop Shopping Choir will be in that great cathedral of logos, Times Square, this Friday, December 21, 7pm, near the statue of Rev. Duffy. Get there before the arrest — or the Rapture (when your credit card limits are lifted up to heaven)–or, if you're a Mayan, before the end of the World-Going-Out-of-Business sale.
Catch videos of the Reverend's bits and busts at www.RevBilly.com.
And to all, a good night.
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News Flash! Just got word of the best Hanukkah gift ever: Correspondent Richard Engel and his crew were freed by Syrians who attacked Engel's captors.
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Greg Palast is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Billionaires & Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, Armed Madhouse and the highly acclaimed Vultures' Picnic, just named Book of the Year on BBC Newsnight Review.
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Photos by Zach D. Roberts.