Reverend Billy is a political activist and performance artist notable for combining his anti-commercialization politics with an evangelical preacher character named Reverend Billy. Actor Bill Talen created
the character in response to the commercializing and sanitizing of Times Square, though both his act and political issues have since grown much more expansive. Backed by a full gospel choir, aided by celebrities like Joan Baez, star of a documentary, and a candidate for mayor of New York City.
Reverend Billy is notable for his ability to create a spectacle and for combining the absurd with the very serious. Central to his character are the evils of shopping, an argument he makes in many forms -- against commercialization and the blandness of mass culture driving out local business, he and his choir perform outside places like the Disney Store. In response to the thorny dangers of credit card debt, Reverend Billy performs exorcisms on ATMs. Reverend Billy also frequently targets Starbucks, for displacing local business and for masquerading as local, as with the recently rebranded Starbucks in Seattle. Reverend Billy also protests against things less related to commercialization, like against the war in Iraq and global warming.
In the last year, Reverend Billy's most notable action is his running for Mayor of New York, as the Green Party candidate. His politics in the election, which are generally oriented toward progressive causes, can be connected to campaigns like those against
the Disney Store in their recurring thread of anti-corporatization. He opposes the measures taken my Mayor Bloomberg that he believes are the equivalent to turning New York into a corporation: emphasis on the rich and clients, tourism, upping profitability at the expense of history and affordability, and the lessening of public spaces. In response, Reverend Billy supports free public transit and maintaining the individuality of neighborhoods, with a strong emphasis on New York as composed of many distinct and diverse parts, "The Fabulous 500 Neighborhoods", which relates back to his emphasis on the local.
For me, Reverend Billy is fascinating on several levels. I've always been interested in the idea of using one's self as the art. Reverend Billy's artistic creation is not just his philosophy, his church, and the choir that backs him, but his own self: from voice to outfits to blonde pompadour He very much inhabits his character at almost all times, while oscillating between humor and seriousness. The over the top absurdity reaches its peak while dealing with oppositional forces -- whether in protest outside a store or in dealing with antagonistic forces like Fox News. Reverend Billy very much uses the idea of the spectacle, with bizarre, innovative events like revivals, protests, exorcism, traveling entire subway routes with the full choir, participating in Burning Man, organzing a "Zomberg" (Bloomberg zombie) float in the Greenwich Village Halloween parade, by being of the Coney Island Mermaid Parade (due to his role in opposing Bloomberg's development for the neighborhood), and by frequently being arrested. In this way, he very much situates himself within counterculture in ways hugely atypical from most politicians. For me, this brings something to politics and activism that I feel is very much missing, something visceral and real, a stark contrast to the stilted, alienating feel of most political speeches and conventions, even the so-called town hall meetings where they struggle for intimacy. Through all the disguises and artifices and exaggeration, Reverend Billy paradoxically seems more real than those who struggle to prove their authenticity and normalcy, raising questions about what exactly a public persona can be and what "honesty" is really composed of.
Rev Billy Official Site