The Amish, Misunderstood Again

Many of the misconceptions of the Amish come about because someone misunderstands their ways and then imposes their values on the Amish. This is how the misconception of “rumspringa” became so widespread… the people making a documentary The Devil’s Playground misconstrued the idea of what “rumpspringa” is all about.

Now the misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the Amish have been taken several giant steps further by the people responsible for the recent series Breaking Amish and Amish Mafia. There is so much I could say about the audacity of someone who is so blatantly capitalizing on the high interest in Amish culture for their own profit. I could also harp on why people are allowed to dub this as “reality television” when it is so blatantly false, but I’m not going to do that, either. Instead I want to point out how the people responsible for these shows have taken their own values (or the lack of them) and imposed them on the Amish. The Mafia is the epitome of centralized corrupt power. The structure of the Amish culture is the opposite of that.

Few people know just how diverse the Amish are. I often quote Dr. Donald Kraybill, who has pointed out that there are more than 1,900 ways to live an Amish life because there are more than 1,900 Amish church districts in the United States and Canada. Each bishop emphasizes the rules (“Ordnung”) in the church as he sees fit. This means that the Amish do not have a centralized leader, such as the Pope in the Roman Catholic Church.

This begs the question of how the Amish have been able to maintain their culture and what unifies them. I believe that the cohesion in Amish communities is their adherence to tradition. Yes, most Amish bishops can decide which rules to emphasize in their districts, but most follow the traditions that have been passed down for generations. This is why any changes that take place happen so slowly and why the Amish still exist. This is also why the very idea of an Amish Mafia is so incredibly ludicrous to anyone who knows anything about the Amish. I am the first to admit that the Amish are not all innocents — revenge exists in their communities, right alongside their amazing acts of forgiveness. Abuses of all kinds happen in Amish communities and the silence that shrouds these abuses are close to impenetrable. But most of the time these are people acting individually and not banding together to exact their twisted form of justice on people who cross them. Unfortunately, there are also times when there is a “group mentality” and a child in school will get picked on unmercifully. But this is far cry from the concept of a centralized, corrupt power like the Mafia.

In the case of Breaking Amish, it seems to me that the producers of the show assumed that the former Amish young people they hired (who may as well have been actors and actresses) would want to get into the “English” rat race for the latest fashions and technologies. But they took it a step further than even most English young people — these Amish young people were introduced to the most extreme fashions… tattoos and Brazilian waxes. (I didn’t know what the latter was until I heard about this show — and I’ve been out of the Amish for 33 years and have done quite well without them, thank you very much!) Either the people responsible for these two shows don’t know the first thing about the Amish and have no business making a show or else they do know what the Amish are about and they are desecrating the culture because they can. Shame on them, either way. I cannot help but think that the young people who acted in this show will someday regret that they did so. We all evolve and change, and sometimes we don’t want the world to know what we were like years before.

To anyone who has seen these shows, I would say, “Question what you see in these shows before you go believing it. Reality has nothing to do with it.” And for anyone who is interested, the same people produced both Breaking Amish and Amish Mafia. These were both produced by Hot Snakes Media

19 thoughts on “The Amish, Misunderstood Again”

  1. I have not seen either of these shows, nor do I have any desire to. When I heard the title Amish Mafia in an advertisement, I was appalled. I despise “un”-reality tv, but this… is unspeakably… ludicrous. I was almost speechless at their audacity. If a program like this were done against the Muslims, there would be an outcry. But because the very essence of the Amish/Mennonite/Anabaptist belief systems is peace and forgiveness and because most of the plain people will never see nor hear about the program, the producers can get away with it. The question I have asked myself is: Do we join their silence or is there a way to speak up? Boycotting advertizers or… ???

  2. I have been hearing about these programs,but don’t watch T.V. so haven’t seen either,but would imagine its all about money and what draws the crowd…they don’t mind who they hurt in doing so…its very sad to me. As you said…Shame on them! I agree with you….blessings

  3. I only work on a single road, I am guided by Christ our savior. We do not harvest that was sown that for some it will be love and to share with another that is corruption and darkness.
     
    May the Lord protect and bless our brothers and sisters Amish.
      See you soon.

  4. I really like hearing comments/view points about those shows. We do not own a tv, but beings I’m a Mennonite who wears a head covering and a dress, I’m often asked about them. I usually don’t know what to say, other than that I am quick to tell folks NOT to believe everything they see/hear/read. I have always felt in my heart that those shows are sand dunes being made out of one grain of sand. Thanks again.

  5. Thanks, all for your comments.

    Aleta, this is a good question. My way has been to not watch these shows. I have only watched clips of them — enough to know just how awful they are.

    Sharon, you might want to see this article about reality show salaries: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/27/business/media/27reality.html. I heard that the Amish characters in “Amish in the City” were paid only a fraction of what their English counterparts were paid. As far as your second question… define “really Amish.” And then define “leader of the ‘Amish Mafia'” when there is no such thing. I do know these actors had Amish upbringings.

    Lois, I’m with you… I don’t know what to say, either. It feels like I may as well be spitting in the wind to give my opinion on them. The sand dune is a great metaphor.

    Thanks, all for your comments.

    Saloma

  6. Hi Saloma,
    What did u think of the tv show Amish: Out of Order? some friends of mine, who know more a little more about the Amish than most America’s. say it was a little more realistic. Do u think that’s true? I never watch the “reality” tv shows about the Amish (first b/c they are so obviously fake and b/c I don’t have cable). It really reallyt bothers me that these producers are taking advantage of the Amish by making these tv shows, which is only for profit. Even the one about the Hutterites American colony was scripted in some parts (ex. the scene of the heart attack and following hospital was made up by the producer’s).

  7. I clicked on the link Hot Snakes Media and nowhere did I read in their “about” section, that they DOCUMENT anything. They create, develop and produce, but don’t document! Just as I suspected! I refuse to watch those shows. Most people realize they are not real “reality” but still, it’s a shame these producers are given air time to begin with.

  8. plaingrl, I didn’t watch much of Amish: Out of Order, either, because I don’t watch television (I only saw clips online). I do think this show is certainly more authentic than Breaking Amish, but there were parts that certainly could have been improved, in my opinion.

    Twisted, good for you.

    Peggy, those are my thoughts exactly.

    Saloma

  9. Precisely why my husband and I don’t want the influence of tv lingering within our four walls. We rent, borrow and buy what suits us and our two boys. Even when I was single, in my own apartment, I had no tv shows cluttering up my mind or dictating to me what I should look like, live like, and just plain like.
    I saw Amish Mafia (doesn’t even deserve to be capitalized) while visiting my mom. I thought it was lame. Phoney is too light a word for it.
    Saloma, I’m glad you pointed out that there are good things within the Amish culture. It seems, as of late, my focus has been on everything wrong within their fold, but that’s not fair to them nor is it the truth. It makes me feel better, as well, because I’ve always respected the Amish and their way of life (from what I knew of it) and I can still hold some of that goodness in my heart. Blessings, dear lady.

  10. I live in the heart of amish country in lagrange county where this film was made and its pretty accurate. The amish seem so perfect and all but this documentary shows truth that the amish community didn’t want people to know. Also there is a lot of incest and child molestation that goes on within the amish and many of them do go to jail for it. I applaud the director. This documentary is very factual

    1. I find it interesting that you chose to leave your reply as “Anonymous” and not your actual name… if you are so certain of the horrible accusations you are making why hide behind being anonymous? can you prove anything you have said here? they are pretty horrible accusations…. frankly, I just can’t take your remarks for more than a coward’s aspersions in an attempt for attention…

      1. Bonnie, as a blog administrator, I would like to keep the discussions here in the realm of respectful, so I would like to refrain from calling people names, please. The truth is that like other peoples in the world, the Amish struggle with incest and child molestation, along with all other issues of abuse.

        If Anonymous was referring to the Devil’s Playground, then perhaps one can agree… this documentary was factual, at least as interpreted by the producers. The problem with it is that they generalized the problems in one community to all Amish.

        “Breaking Amish” and Amish Mafia” NOT factual.

  11. Pingback: About Amish | Amish Conference 2016, Part 3

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