Went to catch the Reverend Billy Shopapocalypse Tour at the Victoria Theater last night. As usual I’m ‘out of step’ with my ‘community’ of aging lefties (most of the audience) who seemed to delight in everything about the show. While I consider Bill Talen an ally and want very much to support him and his interventions against Wal-Mart, Starbucks, et al, I really don’t like the “Church of Stop Shopping” politics. It’s a weird cross between Adbusters neo-Christian populism, and New Age group therapy.
Worse than that is the overall inarticulateness of Billy’s adlibbing. I never imagined that he would be drawing blanks, repeating cliches, and leaving points unsaid and incomplete so often. In general I think he’s a fine actor, but I don’t think he’s much of a writer, finally. The Stop Shopping shtick works as street theater, but not so well as a gospel revival, unless you are just soft for that form, or really think the problem of our ridiculous and oppressive daily life can be solved by simple withdrawal. But what I really fear is that the overall shallowness of this program is another manifestation of Orwell’s prescience.
Could it be that Rev. Billy (like Jon Stewart of The Daily Show, our other most-revered satirist these days) just doesn’t know that much and doesn’t read that much about what’s going on in the world, and relies for all his material on what he sees in the propaganda organs that pass for news outlets? Is the growing unsophistication of the satire and humor of our culture a reflection of the dumbing down of language and discourse more generally?
Billy’s best moment last night came when he metaphorically confronted a “Commodity Wall” and could not resist the allure, feeling his head being pulled into it. He turned away (all this done with great evangelical theatrics), gathered his strength and explained that he (and by extension, we) had to find our OWN story, something deep within us, to have the strength to resist the cacophony of stories being thrust at us 24/7 by the Commodity Wall. I was with him, enjoying what seemed like a sensible invocation of lived truth versus spectacular representation, but then he actually told us a story, and it was so lame and inconsequential and New Age-y that the whole deeper point was lost. It was something about being a bird-watching kid in South Dakota and seeing some Golden Eagles take flight… and that was it! Oh sure, they flew and flew and supposedly flew right through the Commodity Wall, but the story just lost the point entirely in its insipid “natural”ness…
I probably should not have gone to this show, since I’ve seen his thing before, and have never liked the ‘stop shopping’ anti-consumerism politics, since it seems so obviously a neo-Xtian guilt campaign, and never says anything about all WORK we’re doing to make this mess in the first place! By the same token I should probably not watch Jon Stewart this week when he has on as guests Colin Powell (and I’m sure he won’t confront him with the Downing Street memo, his well-documented lies at the Feb 5 UN hearing, or anything meaningful), or Newt Gingrich or whoever else he lobs his collegial softballs to this week. Clearly Frank Luntz or some other lunkhead repub strategist has decided to flood The Daily Show with their talking heads to shift the contents away from its usual tepid liberal outrage…
I did have a lovely weekend in spite of my disappointment with this show. On Saturday I gave one of my periodic radical history bike tours, this one on SF’s ecological history. About 40 folks showed up and somehow we made that work over 4 hours. Still waiting to hear some critical feedback, but overall it was well received. Then I saw this AWESOME movie called “The Real Dirt on Farmer John” which was only marred by a mindboggling simplistic and self-serving live opening speech by that puzzlingly famous stiff Al Gore. Don’t miss this film when it comes your way… very intense, personal, honest and brilliant historical snapshot of the demise and apparent re-emergence of small family farming in the midwest (and yes put that word ‘family’ in major quotes/brackets), as told through the life of John Peterson who wrote and directed and starred in this remarkable tale.
After that, we sped over to 24th and Mission to see 30 artists in white enter the Mission Cultural Center for the third annual “Immersion” show. They enter the gallery, entirely draped in white paper, and transform it over 3 hours, while darkly-clad patrons mill about talking and interacting with the artists… a very San Francisco and Mission District cultural experience… yesterday we took a long walk over to the new Hayes Green at the end of the Octavia Blvd still under construction, to see David Best’s mini-temple (a la Burning Man temples he’s most famous for)… very beautiful, hard to imagine it lasting very long. Its installation was rushed so Mayor Newsom could host an opening ceremony with all the mayors who came here for World Environment Day… an awful lot of events were held, but I missed nearly all of ‘em. Don’t know if there’s anyone out there who really tuned in and got a sense of interesting progress or networking going on… maybe someone will chime in with a report?
Anyway, I did get that worthy neologism from Rev. Billy and I leave you with it:
Change-A-lulah!!! (that’s chanjalooyah!)