I’m the Reverend Billy

| 1st September 2004
We interrupt our regular programming for a moral advisory… I’m the Reverend Billy

In the States we are now between the two national political party conventions, each in a sports arena, a big box in the centre of the city, which is then surrounded by the militarised police and deserted streets, as we sit far away with the grinning teeth of the candidates flickering from the big boxes in our homes. Never before has life itself so closely resembled a WAL-MART TWO-DAY SALE. Now this large mall-box used by the Democrats, the Fleet Center in Boston, was financed by and named in honour of the Fleet Bank of Boston, which was at the centre of a big insider mutual-fund scandal in the US: the penalty settlement with Fleet’s fellow well-dressed thieves at Bank of America was $675m. Children you SINNED! The traders would engineer rapid-fire buys and sells in the seconds between the closing time for the ordinary investor-dupes and the real end of the day for the elite – that is the fetid sinners IN THE KNOW. In those few seconds the Fleet people would buy and sell cities, send armies in another direction, arrange to pulverise mountains, and God knows what. The Democrats spent the spotlight-time imitating, oh, Tony Blair and George Bush, but at the same moment castigated them as unseemly wretches. They are operating in the unseeable moment between the edge of the Supermall and the complex continent of human beings beyond. There’s a seam in there that they open up and suddenly the same old smoky back room is full of these Tonys and Georges and Johns, sweatily working the flippers on the video game called LIFE ON EARTH. They rapid-invest, they laugh at countries, they micro-manage cancers and extinctions, they scare the BBC, they send Rupert Murdoch and Mickey Mouse their monthly bribes, and in general keep the trembling hologram called Representative Democracy continuing its babbling mirage. And, of course, the Conspiracy of Boxes never mentions Fleet Bank’s thieving history. Will somebody help me now? In a recent study conducted at the Stop Shopping School of Divinity, scholars established that there is a causal relationship between the architecture of the Big Box, the intrusion of cosmetic dentistry, and the general acceptance of OFFICIAL ABSURDITY. We are so dazzled by the product placement of The Teeth and Hair Party, John Kerry and John Edwards and their handsome, rich kiddies – how could we possibly come out with our citizenship intact? All the language has slipped toward George Bush’s mouth, despite Stephen Hawking’s admission that information can escape the gravity of a black hole. ‘Sweatshops’ is a word that has now vanished, replaced by the more Republican ‘out-sourcing’. The Environment is mentioned in passing – like a terrarium that fell off of the edge of the movie set. Recently the California courts determined that your pastor had sexually assaulted a Starbucks cash register. Our lawyers have re-read the injunction many times and have tried to contact the court for clarification. The Members of the Church of Stop Shopping are enjoined from coming within 250 yards of ‘all the Starbucks in California’. We are thus arranging with a crane company to suspend our believers high ABOVE the transnational chain stores, in an effort to rain down information on the latte sippers about coffee monoculture/herbicide/pesticide devastation. They have constructed, you see, a legal Big Box. But our faith will set us free. Don’t, congregation, for superstitious hygienic reasons, drift back into glorying a GAP with their miles of smooth capped-teeth-like surfaces. This really is the DUMBING DOWN AND FUCKING UP Of OUR SOULS. The great language schemes, the politics-simple slogans that banner over the Big Boxes are all the same: swooning talking points about HAPPINESS, CONVENIENCE, ETERNAL LIFE IN THE MIDDLE CLASSES. And you say, ‘If we listen to something outside of the boxes, what would that be?’ Well, there is a message screaming at us, but it doesn’t get through the walls of the big box of Consumerworld. The agony of animals, the droughts and rising waters, the burned children of our technological, colonial wars… If our Big Box had a retractable roof, and we put a microphone through to the sky, we would hear articulate deathbed speeches, pleas to us, lost in our box. We will respond, with our good works and our faith, won’t we? For starters, don’t let a big box store come into your neighbourhod. The smiles that proliferate in such places… It’s a sin. Get up in front of the city council and say, ‘WE AIN’T SMILING!’ Bill Talen’s book What Should I do if Reverend Billy is in my Store? (New Press) is available in independent bookshops (if you see it in a transnational chain store, steal it). Visit www.revbilly.com

This article first appeared in the Ecologist September 2004


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