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Reverend Billy Headshot

Killing To Shop

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It's official: Consumerism and Militarism are the same thing.

Watching the Jets football game last Sunday, I witnessed three entertainments. First, there was a commercial for a new video game, Black Ops, in which ordinary overweight accountants, peppy secretaries, i.e. "ordinary Americans" --- sport enormous guns. In this 30 second ad, they proceed to blow up entire buildings, billowing flames skyward, with just the flick of a trigger and a smirk on their face.

Then the television returns to the Jets game, set, hup and it's a running play. So my second entertainment is the armored crushing sound of the tackle, the pile-up, and a man remains on the ground as the others return to the huddle. He's unconscious. The producers are ready with his college photo, which resembles a mug shot. He lies there, attended to by short white medics. They are trying to talk into his helmet, trying to engage the runner, taking his pulse. It's becoming embarrassing. Cut to another commercial message, and this time it is the United States Army.

Again -- the screen fills with people who look like they are from my own neighborhood but they are surrounding a house, a copter hovering overhead. A young man who looks like the manager of a Dunkin' Donuts kicks in a front door. He shouts and rolls into the opening, spraying the interior of the house with gunfire. The house is a generic earthen structure, like we see in the Iraq or Afghanistan news segments. No family members who might be living there, attacked by this ferocious American taxpayer, are pictured in the commercial.

The thing is -- the Black Ops and the Be All You Can Be commercials of last Sunday are virtually interchangeable in my memory. They have only the unconscious athlete dividing them. Both ads had the theme of people on the sidewalks of everyday America -- turned into killing machines. One commercial urges a purchase of a gift for Christmas, while the other recruits the football fans to participate in actual war. They both suggest that ordinary working stiffs standing on the curb waiting for the bus, say, can suddenly lunge through a crack in reality and command outlandish firepower.

Shopping and killing are now the same gesture. Consumerism and Militarism -- the two fundamentalist systems that rule American life, are wrapped into one monstrous faith. So the corporate marketers are hoping that we will imitate the images they have readied for us. We are supposed to jump into those pixilated constructions of our bodies, offer our real flesh, and assume that same nonchalant, even comic, response to killing.

And so, it is Christmas. I don't believe that this big play for our hearts and minds is working. As much as our ordinary lives are considered under-exploited markets, we're not buying, and this Christmas will prove it. More and more of us have a sense of the violence of the corporate Christmas, whether the collateral damage is in the sweatshop or in the defenseless home with parents and grandparents and children inside.

When we refuse to shop, we stop killing.