Monday, January 7, 2013

Break Out Your Buggy and Bonnet: The Amish Are So Hot Right Now

Having just written about the new cat obsession website catmoji, I'd like to address another obsession that seems to have taken over-the Amish.
The Amish have lived plainly and happily for years making great furniture and sticky buns and just being a weekend escape destination for city-dwellers fed up with advanced society of modern inconveniences. So why all of sudden are we so obsessed with the Amish?
In order to trace where this interest was peaked, I am presenting this timeline of my growing personal awareness of the Amish from the media and how they seemingly, and unfairly, have gone from a simple, peaceful people, to murderers, criminals, and fame-seeking gluttons thanks to this media imaging.

2010-I accidentally get sucked into watching a rerun of Lifetime's 2004 original movie "Plain Truth" about murder on an Amish farm based on the novel by Jodie Picoult starring Mariska Hargitay. It needs to be mentioned that we landed on watching this movie after flipping channels and watched it for nearly a half hour before realizing with great disappointment it was not an episode of Law and Order: SVU.

2011-The Amish Sweeny Todds. News spreads throughout the media about a malicious hate crime of Amish men and women who cut the hair and beards of other Amish men and women. In Amish tradition, cutting the hair is a highly offensive act because they believe the Bible instructs women to let their hair grow long and men to grow beards and stop shaving once they marry. This crime was committed by a breakaway Amish group in eastern Ohio who were trying to send a message to a neighboring Amish community whom they disagreed with on religious issues. Terrifying. The thought of one of those faces in the mugshots (especially the one in the upper right corner) busting into my home in the middle of the night and giving me a haircut is absolutely nightmare inducing. Not to mention it seems from this hate crime that an Amish civil war could be about to break out.

2012-Reality TV goes Amish thanks to The Learning Channel. This network really has a commitment to knowledge. Maybe Romney was right and we don't need quality, informative programming like PBS. We have TLC to count on. And on warm summer nights, while we were getting sucked into the redneck mud pit of Honey Boo Boo and her clan, TLC took advantage of our attention to promote "Breaking Amish," a fall premiering show about five fresh-faced Amish and Mennonites who were purportedly taken to New York City to explore life outside their culture. I didn't watch this show, but heard that the big moments of drama involved secret marriages, hidden previous arrests, girls trying to become famous, and lots of fighting and hooking up among the cast. So basically it is The Hills or Jersey Shore, but with bonnets.

2012-Because there are no original ideas, once "Breaking Amish" hit, it was only a brief matter of time before other networks jumped on the Amish buggy. And in December, Discovery Channel gave us a new guilty 'reality' pleasure in "Amish Mafia" which follows Lebanon Levi, who, along with three of his assistants, takes the law into his own hands to protect his Amish community in Lancaster County, PA. And yes, their dramatic antics almost fill the void left from "The Sopranos," as these 'characters' clash with other Amish mafia bosses and plot illegal buggy races to repay debt. You almost expect/hope that Tony Soprano will make a cameo to offer them advice.

2013-Last night the newest Amish television exploit premiered on Lifetime with their movie "An Amish Murder" starring Scream queen Neve Campbell in the role of a former Amish girl turned chief of police who is investigating a murder of an Amish girl. And of course it comes out that she left her Amish community after being raped and killing her rapist, but she is still now shunned by them, even her own brother. Oh the drama. So classic Lifetime, but again, just with bonnets.

What will we see from these Amish next? I'm sure Bravo has Real Housewives of Lancaster County in the works. And I would absolutely watch an Amish cooking show on Food Network. (Seriously have you had their sticky buns? Or heard of shoofly pie? Trust me, you'd watch.)

But how do the Amish feel about this exposure? I am still confused as to how we got to this point where they are the center of seedy crime and drama? Especially since all of this and television itself seem against the underlying beliefs of their religion. As stated in Wikipedia,

"Two key concepts for understanding Amish practices are their rejection of Hochmut (pride, arrogance, haughtiness) and the high value they place on Demut (humility) and Gelassenheit (calmness, composure, placidity), often translated as "submission" or "letting-be". Gelassenheit is perhaps better understood as a reluctance to be forward, to be self-promoting, or to assert oneself. The Amish anti-individualist orientation is the motive for rejecting labor-saving technologies that might make one less dependent on community. Modern innovations like electricity might spark a competition for status goods, or photographs might cultivate personal vanity."

Right. So, we are expected to believe that this humble, placid culture that wants to avoid self-promoting and vanity are willingly doing reality tv? If ever I suspected reality tv of being fake, this is it. And as far as the sensationalized Lifetime movies, I suspect they are just running out of ideas for the suburban setting.
So, as much I admittedly would watch that Amish cooking show and do love a good housewife bonnet pulling fight, I propose we let this obsession go and leave the Amish out of our scrutiny and destruction. They had their fifteen minutes of fame, and I'm sure they didn't even want it. I'm ready for the next obsession. TLC has a new show about over the top funerals and Lifetime has a show about a lingerie shop for large breasted southerners. I don't think we'll get bored without the Amish.

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