Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Anti-Christ(mas)

The pumpkins have barely begun to rot on the compost heap, and already the season of consumption and toys is upon us. Small wonder. Yahoo reports that two-thirds of our economy is driven by consumer spending. With 70 percent of that spending occurring between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the race is on to capture the imagination and wallets of the buying public.

We all know this stuff. And yet we still get sucked into the desire to do more, to buy more. Clearly the estimated $417 billion that will be spent globally on advertising this year is having an effect. Aside from the obvious credit card debt at the end of the season, we need to understand that there is a much bigger price to pay for our rampant consumerism. According to The Worldwatch Institute, Canada and the United States make up 5.2 percent of the world's population, and yet our portion of private consumption expenditures is 31.5 percent, or more than six times what could be considered our fair share - if fairness had anything to do with it.

Thanks to increased trade with China and other developing countries, consumer goods keep getting cheaper and cheaper, which means we're buying more stuff. This in turn further depletes our resources, fills our garbage dumps with packaging, and single use items as well as other junk. All this uses up finite oil reserves, the burning of which further contributes to climate change. This is supposedly done in the spirit of "Peace on Earth, Goodwill towards Men."

Enter the Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Gospel Choir. They believe that consumerism is overwhelming our lives. We define the quality of our lives through the use of various consumer products that give us gorgeous hair, flawless white teeth, sex appeal, the perfect home, car, home entertainment system or cell phone. On Friday, November 16th, according to Reverend Billy, the Shopocalypse ends. That's when the good Reverend and the Church of Stop Shopping will hit the road in two bio-diesel buses to bring their anti-consumerism messages to the malls of America, just in time for the holiday rush toward the final day of shopping judgment: Christmas.

The tour is set to coincide with the release of The Church of Stop Shopping's new film, What Would Jesus Buy?, which premieres in cities across the US and Canada on November 21st.

"The corporations want us to have experiences only through their products. Our neighborhoods, "commons", places like stoops and parks and streets and libraries, are disappearing into the corporatized world of big boxes and chain stores," says the group's Statement of Beliefs. "But if we back away from the product - even a little bit - well then we put The Odd Back In God! The supermodels fly away and we're left with our original sensuality. We like independent shops where you know the person behind the counter or at least - you like them enough to share a story. Remember children ... Love is a Gift Economy!"

If all of this religious furor is a little too much for you, there's always Buy Nothing Day (BND). Celebrated annually on November 23 in Canada and the US (and on November 24th around the world), BND has become a global phenomenon. The Adbusters Media Foundation started this made-in-Canada celebration in Vancouver 15 years ago. This year, environmentalists, social activists and concerned citizens in as many as 65 countries will hit the streets for a 24-hour consumer fast.

Kalle Lasn, the co-founder of Adbusters, explains that while most participants used to see the day simply as an escape from the marketing mind games and frantic consumerism that have come to characterize modern life, the focus has since shifted due to the new political mood surrounding climate change. 

"So much emphasis has been placed on buying carbon offsets and compact fluorescent light bulbs and hybrid cars that we are losing sight of the core cause of our environmental problems," notes Lasn. "Driving hybrid cars and limiting industrial emissions is great‚ but they are band-aid solutions if we don't address the core problem: we have to consume less."

It's important to recognize that Buy Nothing Day isn't just about not shopping for one day.

"With over six billion people on the planet, it is the responsibility of the most affluent - the upper 20 percent that consumes 86 percent of the world's resources - to set out on a new path," said Lasn. That's truly a gift worth giving.


For more on Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping, visit

Find out how easy it is to celebrate Buy Nothing Day. Check out


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