Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I Married Reverend Billy...or How to Tell Good Shopping from Bad

THERE'S my guy, Reverend Billy, the inspired performance artist who preaches against mindless consumerism in the malls, Starbuckses, Victoria Secrets, BestBuys, Stapleses, Disney emporia and Walmarts of America backed up by his robed, gospel-singing Church of Stop Shopping.

I love this guy, which probably explains why I married him.

Well, not him exactly, but his Jewish counterpart.

Yup...Husband of Bungalow Babe is the Hebrew cousin of Reverend Billy, preaching his own brand of anti-consumerism from the pulpit of our home.

I love that about him but as someone who also understands the concept of retail therapy, HOBB's religious zeal against buying makes me want to bolt from his synagogue from time to time.

We saw Rev. Billy in action in the new documentary, What Would Jesus Buy? which I loved from start to finish. Anyone who has sensed the apocalypse -- which Reverend Billy brands the Shopocalypse -- walking into a Costco will adore this movie which explores not only the mindless acquisitiveness of the American Christmas season but the disturbing provenance of much of our cut-rate goods, the closing of Mom and Pop stores when big box retailers gallop into town, the misguided impulse of parents to buy their kids "everything," and naturally, the out-of-control debt racked up by many Americans.

Oh, and the positing of Mickey Mouse as the Christ Child, the deification of this cartoon character in plush form, the alternate reality created by the architects of Disney Land and Disney World and all things Disney.

Perhaps my fave moment in the movie is when Reverend Billy bursts into a Disney Store at a mall and holds up a stuffed Mickey Mouse, proclaiming, "Mickey Mouse is the Anti-Christ!"

Gotta love this guy.

Though HOBB has not been known to launch proactive anti-shopping offensives in malls, he has nearly fainted in Macy's, broken out in hives in Gap, experienced low-blood sugar at Tiffany's, bolted out of Target and wandered in a fugue state through malls. He owns about 2 items of clothes, doesn't crave electronic toys or gadgets and don't even get me started on the state of our minivan, one television set ( late Grandma Dorothy bought it for us in 1984) or much of the stuff in our home.

And though I, too, loathe mindless consumerism, I am also a willing practitioner of mindful consumerism from time to time, distinguishing between good shopping and bad shopping in much the same way as nutritionists divide good carbs from bad.

For instance, while Walmart is surely Purgatory, Target is Paradise and Loehmann's is often a glimpse of The World to Come.

While spending an entire Sunday at Woodbury Commons is a pathetic waste of time, dashing through it for an hour or two at the end of a day can be fun.

Snagging a great Isaac Mizrahi dress (bought for $24.99 from Target) is often more therapeutic than a month of psychotherapy.

And discovering cut-rate treasures at thrift shops is the most orgasmic experience outside of sex.

Not that I would ever confuse shopping with sex.

I must say that I do find HOBB's hatred for purchasing an attractive character trait and now that my kids are no longer little, I can concede how much I hated going into stores like Toys R Us or even FAO Schwarz, which I have always found obnoxious...hardly the wonderland everyone seems to think it is.

And though I stand four-square with HOBB on the evils of acquisitiveness, I have also determined that what often draws me to shop recreationally is the guarantee of easily-acquired happiness. The dress I am likely to find on sale at Banana Republic or the furniture that Ikea is offering hardly ever fails to bring me a small measure of joy.

Naturally, it's all about having a sense of perspective. These are things, after all, and just the icing on the cake of life. The happiness of finding that fabulous black velvet party dress that fits like a glove (and only for $58!!) does not begin to compare with the happiness of artistic achievement or human connectedness or the joy of travel or finding oneself in the midst of a magnificent forest or on a beach at sunrise or sunset or holding your newborn child in your arms or having your child graduate from elementary school/high school/college/graduate school or really great sex, or all those wonderful key moments in life, etc, etc, etc.


And one last thing...sometimes, the act of "going shopping" is less about the stuff and more about providing a context for something else...talking about difficult matters, for instance. Sometimes, launching on a quest for a new coat or pair of shoes with one's child provides a venue for having important conversations that would be difficult or awkward to have while sitting on the living room couch or facing each other down at a restaurant.

At times like these, the longed-for object is really a McGuffin...Alfred Hitchcock's term for the illusory goal that drives the plot of his movies... creating an opportunity to spend time together in the real quest to bring more happiness into our lives.

No comments: