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Slaves to Our Stuff: A Creative Vision to Break Away From Consumer Culture's Destructive Grip

Billy Talen, known as Reverend Billy, talks about his new book and says, "We need to be honest with ourselves about the danger we are all in with the natural world."

Photo Credit: John Quilty


This article was published in partnership with  GlobalPossibilities.org.

Need a creative way to fight fears of our planetary demise? A new book by Billy Talen prophetically titled, The End of the World (OR Books), may be just the trick. Talen, also known as Reverend Billy, and his Church of Stop Shopping, exposes the socio-political structure of consumerism and the commoditization of the earth with songs, impassioned preaching and theater events. Talen has been arrested 70 times along with members of the Church for their acts of civil disobedience in banks and other places of corporate mediation. Their decade-long collaboration, under the direction of Savitri D, has brought them to communities throughout the U.S. and internationally where they have built a performance institution of communities of action with songs and uplifting protest spectacle on the streets and in concert halls. Talen and the Church’s inspiring and engaging performances ask us to take action on behalf of our home on our rapidly dying planet.

The End of the World is being promoted with the launch of the international Revolt of the Golden Toad tour, which began in San Francisco on April 22. The End of the World is a poetic cry of sermons to wake people up about the climate crisis, destruction of biodiversity, and catastrophic consumption orchestrated by global capitalism. 

Talen spoke with AlterNet about his new book and what motivates his creative actions.

Sabrina Artel: How did this book project come about?

Billy Talen: Because of my growing feeling that human beings are losing. We’re losing ground to the corporations and the big banks, and the earth movement is losing. The big bank system needs to multiply their products and keep us in a state of consumption. Consumerism needs to be defeated. 

As I started watching the sack of diapers next to [my daughter] Lena when she was born in the hospital at St. Vincent’s they were covered by Mickey Mouse faces. Here in NY we have high pressure tests confronting first-graders. The Church of Stop Shopping and I have been active in the movement to stop paying back student debt because it’s reached a trillion dollars so that young people can’t defend the earth; young people can’t be politicized because they are saddled with debt along with their marching orders to become consumers. Climate change kills people every day. It’s dangerous. Certainly it certainly kills people who don’t have the resources to defend themselves. It’s a conscious class war. 

SA: Why did you title your book, The End of the World?

BT: We decided to name the book The End of the World because we won’t survive unless we understand the level of danger we are in now. We’re not registering the emergency. We don’t have a planet crier. There’s no leader standing up for the earth. I think people know it in their souls but we don’t know what to do because we’ve been consumers for so long. The consumer position is passive. Consumers are not active. They are not political. We believe you have to be pessimistic enough to be optimistic.  

SA: How is your tour addressing the environmental crisis that we face? You write, “There is a direct relationship between each additional minute that we are separated and every pound of CO2 we put in the air.”

BT: With our campaign that begins in the Bay Area this week, we are taking an extinct animal and crashing into the hushed cathedrals of finance. We are trying to get at the genitals of the system. The consumer environment we’ve concocted culturally is one where we aren’t afraid even when "the town is on fire." What kind of culture do we live in? You don’t have a normal world when you’re being hit with advertising constantly. That mediation is dangerous and disconnects us from each other. Right now in the world there are 80 coal fired plants in either planning stages or under construction. 

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