Reverend Billy and the Woot “Bag O’ Crap”

Perhaps all of you are well aware of the Woot “Bag O’ Crap.” I only came across it for the first time last week. In case you haven’t heard of it, here’s the main idea. Basically, an online store called Woot occasionally digs around their warehouse and gets rid of random items of mostly insignificant value. They put the items in the “Bag O’ Crap” and sell them for one dollar plus shipping. Sounds pretty ridiculous, right? Well, it certainly is ridiculous. But that doesn’t keep it from also being ridiculously popular. Apparently these “Bags O’ Crap” cause quite a frenzy and sell out in seconds. Yes, there are people who end up receiving “treasures” worth a hundred dollars or more, but most of the time the items are pretty much worthless. Woot even goes out of their way to make it clear that the great majority of people will receive exactly what they pay for – a “Bag O’ Crap.”

So why in the world am I blogging about this? Because I can’t imagine a better example of the troubling impact of consumerism on our culture. Not only do we spend unholy amounts of money to celebrate Christmas. Not only do we accumulate alarming amounts of debt. No, we also choose to spend money on a “Bag O’ Crap” at the mere chance that we may end up receiving something worth more money than we paid – even though that something is probably not something we need, or even necessarily want.

All of this makes me very convinced that we need people like Reverend Billy to raise the alarm and attempt to save us from the Shopacolypse.

In case you missed my previous posts about Reverend Billy (1 and 2), Wikipedia describes him this way:

“Reverend Billy and his Church of Stop Shopping is an activist performance group based in New York City, led by Bill Talen. Using the form of a revival meeting, on sidewalks and in chain stores, Reverend Billy and his gospel choir exhort consumers to abandon the products of large corporations and mass media; the group also preaches a broader message of economic justice, environmental protection, and anti-militarism…”

The reason I am bringing up Reverend Billy again is that I finally got a chance to watch What Would Jesus Buy? – a documentary that follows the good reverend and his rip-roarin’ Church of Stop Shopping on a Christmastime cross country tour to save America from the impending Shopacolypse. As many of you know, I was really excited to see this documentary, but when I got the movie from Netflix I was a little skeptical because Netflix viewers have given the movie a pathetic cumulative rating of 2.5 stars out of 5. But I now know we cannot give any weight to the cumulative Neflix community, because What Would Jesus Buy? is fantastic. Bump it to the top of your queue right now. Go. Now. It’s awesome. Reverend Billy is my hero.

I have to agree with Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann who compares Reverend Billy to the “guerilla theater” of Jesus and the prophets. Reverend Billy might not be a Christian, but he is certainly a prophet. He may use humor, but he is very serious about his message (he has even been arrested multiple times).

Reverend Billy is doing good work. We should all heed his call to STOP SHOPPING!

Check out some of the Revs prophetic antics on YouTube


9 Responses

  1. I enjoy the wootcast almost everyday.
    But you’re right about the Bag o’ Crap. It sells out in a flash.


  2. Hey Adam – long time to see. But I know you like to think, so here’s some food for thought. Stop me if you’ve heard these, okay?

    First, Rev Billy is selling movies, man. Even if he may be right. He goes to jail to make a buck. Even if he also believes what he’s preaching. Everybody’s gotta make a living. Which begs the question, what would you do with the families for whom 50 to 80% of their annual income depends on a small businesses’ christmas sales? The last 6 weeks of the year make or break many small businesses. If your mom and dad sold retail for a living, would you feel differently? And, on a related topic, if consummerism goes, will that speed us more quickly towards ending poverty?

    Your thoughts?

  3. Where can I buy a copy of the DVD?

    Once I know that will Pastor Billy be out front telling me not to go in and buy it?

    I think you had some really good thoughts Bill…..

  4. Hey Bill – thanks for the good comments. First off, I don’t think Rev Billy is making much money. I could be wrong but I’d be real surprised to hear he makes much money. I don’t think he’s going to jail “to make a buck.” I could be wrong but I think he is doing it because he is invested in the truth of the cause – just like the Biblical prophets, Jesus, Paul, etc. (yes, I just compared Rev Billy to Jesus – don’t anyone freak out – I know they are quite different).

    As for selling DVDs – is this against Rev Billy’s message? I don’t think so. He is not saying we should shut down the economy and revert to the 1600’s. There’s lots of different kinds of “stuff.” I think Rev Billy’s DVD is good stuff because it has a good message.

    Christmas and poor old small business owners. Aren’t they screwed already? Walmart will put them out of business. Seriously though, does the fact that someone makes a living off selling unnecessary Christmas junk really mean that it’s ok? Should we really all max out our credit cards and go into debt so that we can save small business owners who depend on Christmas business? I don’t think so.

    Consumerism is not going anywhere. But can we be better consumers? More ethical and thoughtful consumers? I hope so. As for poverty – I don’t know…? Do you have thoughts on that? I really have no idea.

  5. That’s more than fair, Adam. I admit these are questions. I actually ask myself these questions every christmas at some point. But I also have to ask whether one man’s crap is another man’s “good stuff”. Who’s to say? I’ve bought lots of things we didn’t absolutely need. But somebody made a living off it. It’s all relative.

    I threw out the bit about consumerism and poverty because it seemed like an ’emergent’ topic. Guess you’re not into that one. Honestly, my bad. But let’s see…

    I think most true poverty is generational poverty. Personal responsibility plays a big part, but so does bad luck, honestly, and the generational aspect is huge. Circumstances are a lot harder to overcome without much family support. And personal responsibility is hard to develop when you’re surrounded by the opposite. The gub-a-ment can dole out, but I’m not sure it can really lift up.

    In surviving life, generally, family support is critical… which brings me back to the kiosks ‘o crap. I see small entrepreneurs as those trying to get a leg up for their families and their descendants. Not that _I_ plan to buy their crap! But who’s to say their bag ‘o crap isn’t “the next pet rock”? Heck, when you think about it, the Superbowl is really pretty silly. But people enjoy it, so it works.

    By the way, I give at least the benefit of the doubt that Billy believes in his (perhaps overly simplistic) message, but still, he IS making at least _a_ buck on all this. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. ;)

    And I absolutely agree with you that ethical, thoughtful consumerism is better than some other kind.

    Thanks for the thinking-fun. :)

  6. I forgot to say I was incredibly impressed you figured out the proper way to spell “Shopacolypse”.

    That’s funny, but I’m not kidding. :)

  7. I think you guys are agreeing a lot more that you think you are. I see Adam’s point and I see Bill’s. Good thoughts on both ends.

    I am a huge advocate of ethical, responsible, and thoughtful consumerism. I believe that there are a lot of factors influencing the spiraling household debt that has gotten many an honest person into a lot of trouble.

    Awareness is the key. I wish someone could go back in time to that first day of college when they had the big fair out on the lawn in front of the Student Center and gave away free stuff (bags o’ crap) in exchange for signatures and ss #’s and instant money in the form of a little plastic card and warn that socially maladjusted freshman boy who thought he needed to buy stuff for people for them to like him.

    Bad luck does play some part, but good habits can overcome even the worst luck.

  8. Stop the liberal soft-pedaling Adam.

    Frankly we’re all tired of it.

  9. Bill – you’re right, I’m not into poverty. But I do disagree with you for the most part. It sounds to me like you think making money is good no matter what. I most certainly disagree. Just because something “works,” doesn’t mean it’s good. I am not looking forward to the next pet rock. I believe your thinking might well lead to the Shopacolypse.

    TJ – I think the more Bill and I talked the more our differences would show up. But I think that’s ok.

    GK – please allow me to make myself clear. I too am a full supporter of the Workers’ Communist Party of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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