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 looked 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.
Rev. Billy, Greg Palast and Santas.
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 New York City 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.”)
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