Insurgents Fight the Christmas Shopping Frenzy

The day after Thanksgiving is purportedly the busiest shopping day of the year, so naturally Adbusters, the culture-jamming magazine based in Vancouver, B.C., has proclaimed today “ Buy Nothing Day.” It’s an inspired idea to raise people’s consciousness about the excesses of consumerism, which increasingly has a more apocalyptic implication, global warming. The colossal cycle of production and consumption, much of it gratuitous and contrived, is literally starting to jeopardize the future of life on earth.

It’s always revealing to see how the mainstream media react to Buy Nothing Day. Newspapers always seem to fill up their newshole on this slow-news weekend with amusing, offbeat subjects like protesting tree-sitters in Berkeley, celebrity “news” and…the idea of buying nothing for a day. How zany is that?!

“MTV actually refused to sell commercial airtime to Adbusters to air a message about Buy Nothing Day. MTV, known for purveying salacious hip-hop videos and dangerous Jackass pranks, told Adbusters that their paid message was not “appropriate” for its viewers. More like, it’s not appropriate for MTV/Viacom’s advertisers. You can watch the ad here.

There seems to be a growing backlash against commercialism. Morgan Spurlock, the indie filmmaker who made Supersize Me, recently released a new theatrical film starring Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Choir entitled, What Would Jesus Buy?.

Rev. Billy is a hilarious half-serious/half-spoof revivalist who is a well-known figure on the streets of New York City. In a spanking white suite and trailed by a choir in red robes, Rev. Billy frequently stages “exorcisms” in major retail chains to “drive the demons out of those cash registers.” He rails against the “Shopacalypse” and waves his hands in mock-possession, calling upon the spirit of the Lord to “save us from our shopping sins” and “give us the power to stop shopping. Amen!” The film trailer itself is a hilarious send-up of Disney holiday movies, using the same sort of saccharine-voiced voiceover, curvy Disney typescript and pixie-dust special effects.

Here’s yet another straw in the wind suggesting that people are truly getting fed up with the commercialization of the Christmas season. The Dalio Family Foundation took out full-age newspapers ads last week with the headline, “Let’s redefine Christmas. By putting more Thanksgiving in it.” The text of the ad reads:

No sooner does Thanksgiving end, than the loathsome shopping season begins — a month-long compulsion to buy something, anything, for everyone. We’re pressed. We’re stressed. And our money is wasted. But we can change all that by focusing on the giving. And redefining Christmas.

The ad then urges people to give to their favorite charities instead of shopping — and to urge family and friends to do the same.

The idea of transforming an annual shopping frenzy into a time of peace, gratitude and transcendence may sound far-fetched…but it’s refreshing that some stalwart and imaginative culture-warriors are making the attempt. Who knows what new traditions might gain some traction?