Volume 76, Number 13 | August 16 - 22, 2006

Rev. Billy exorcises the devil from Victoria’s Secret

By Lincoln Anderson

Calling Victoria’s Secret’s catalogues evil incarnate, performance preacher Reverend Billy is ramping up his fire-and-brimstone campaign against the lingerie giant, demanding it stop using wood pulp from Canada’s Boreal Forest.

Reverend Billy, aka Bill Talen, has made the campaign the centerpiece of his current Sunday afternoon show at the Spiegel Tent summer performance space in the South St. Seaport, which runs through September.

Talen, who leads the anticonsumerist Church of Stop Shopping, has in recent years taken on corporations ranging from Disney to Starbucks for their practices. His latest preaching against Victoria’s Secret’s catalogues if of dire importance, he says, because it’s a matter of life and death for the planet.

Talen has teamed with the group ForestEthics, which is leading the campaign against a half-dozen of the country’s largest catalogue producers and which has highlighted Victoria’s Secret, in particular, because its catalogue is so iconic and identified with the brand.

Talen saw Al Gore’s new film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” and was deeply affected. Global-warming prophet Gore has further fueled Talen’s environmental fervor.

“The North Pole is becoming soupy,” Talen said. “Polar bears are drowning — they can’t find ice to stand on. It’s an emergency and we seem unable to say it’s an emergency. It’s like a horror movie. There just isn’t anyone standing up against this except Al Gore.”

The clear-cutting of the Boreal, a vast forest stretching across Canada, is removing a huge air scrubber, while releasing carbon dioxide back into the environment, Talen says.

Talen and ForestEthics say Victoria’s Secret produces an astounding 1 million catalogues per day or about 360 million per year.

Anthony Hebron, a spokesperson for Limited Brands, Victoria’s Secret’s parent company, confirmed that amount is roughly accurate. However, he said that Victoria’s Secret’s monthly catalogue is now 80 percent post-consumer-waste paper, and that the company is working to improve on that.

But Tom O’Leary, a ForestEthics spokesperson, said as far as they can tell, Victoria’s Secret’s monthly clearance catalogue accounts for just 7 percent to 12 percent of the company’s total catalogue output. While O’Leary said ForestEthics is heartened Victoria’s Secret has moved to include recycled paper in its clearance catalogue, more is needed.

“The Boreal Forest is being logged at a rate of 2 acres per minute, 24 hours a day,” said O’Leary. “They use huge machines called fell-a-bunchers…. We’re not calling for an end to all logging. But reduce, don’t clear-cut — do sustainable logging. The Boreal Forest is one of our last chances to get it right.”

O’Leary noted that ForestEthics’ previous campaign against Staples and Office Depot was a success that “transformed” the office-supply industry.

At his opening Spiegel Tent show on Sun. Aug. 6, Talen planned to take his choir and any willing audience members to the Victoria’s Secret shop in the South St. Seaport Mall, which happens to be only 50 feet from the Spiegel Tent.

Inviting him to be part of the Seaport show, he admits, was “like having the fox guard the henhouse.”
But South St. Seaport’s management — which leases the property from the city — got wind of the plan, and

contacted the Spiegel Tent’s producers. A powwow was held with Talen. Though he cried “censorship,” he agreed not to take his show into the mall and risk jeopardizing the other 90 Spiegel Tent artists. The Spiegel producers are standing by Talen’s right to do his show, but say he must also be “neighborly” to the mall’s tenants and keep his act inside the antique velvet-and-mirrored performance tent, which is making its first North American appearance.

Not to be deterred, after his performance last Sunday, Talen and some of his choir and audience members who had agreed they would be willing to be arrested, boarded a subway to Soho where they staged a protest at the Victoria’s Secret store at Broadway and Prince St.

With his jumbo white megaphone in hand, the white-clad preacher stormed the store with his co-ed choir clad in G-strings and wielding cardboard chainsaws in tow.

“Do the research! Do the research!” Talen exhorted the shocked shoppers as he strode among the brassieres and bustiers. He then announced they would perform a “cash register exorcism.” Placing his hand on the till, he called for “the chainsaws” to be removed from the cash register. However, the negative energy may have flown into an emotionally disturbed woman who entered the store with the protest. Shouting angrily and spitting on the floor, she seemed to have a relationship to a sidewalk vendor selling headbands and neckties in front of the store, who objected to Talen’s message of stop shopping.

Feeling the protest was hurting his business, the vendor cursed out the protesters after they continued their rally outside the store, then tried to rip off Talen’s clerical collar and wrestled the protester’s banner away from them and ran off. The vendor returned and cocked his fist at an audience member dressed as a tree, then took a swing at Savitri D, Talen’s wife and production manager.

After about 20 minutes, police arrived and took away the emotionally disturbed woman in an E.M.T. van, though allowed the vendor — now acting calm again, apparently satisfied he had disrupted the protest — to remain. Meanwhile, Talen and the protesters slipped off. He later said he decided not to get arrested because he felt the message was diluted by the chaos caused by the woman and the aggressive vendor, whom he said were both drunk.

“We didn’t want to be part of a free-for-all,” he said. “If you’re going to be arrested, you want to be clear. We did contact hundreds of people,” he said. “American consumers don’t know where their things come from.”

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