In December, the Discovery Channel came out with another outrageous “reality” show about the Amish. This time, they (their parent company also operates TLC which put out Breaking Amish last summer) claimed to be filming the Amish mafia (which is nonexistent, by the way) as it went about its business. The show is called Amish Mafia and I believe the finale has aired already.
I’ve been asked about the authenticity of the show and why I haven’t written about it like I did with Breaking Amish. Well, there are several reasons why I haven’t written about it. First of all, after seeing previews of the show, I didn’t think anyone would actually believe any of it. Secondly, while I was successful in putting the truth about Breaking Amish out there, it felt a little counter-productive because the resulting controversy increased the show’s viewership. Something is seriously wrong with us and our entertainment industry when lying to us makes entertainment companies more profitable than telling us the truth.
I was wrong about nobody believing the show. One Facebook poll (which is likely biased) of more than 2000 viewers, had rather surprising results. A full 41% of the voters believe the show is totally or mostly real, 45% think the show is totally or mostly fake, and 14% don’t care whether it’s real or not.
Another reason I didn’t write about the show is that I don’t personally know any of the cast. Often when there is a television show about the Amish, with ex-Amish cast, I know one or two of them. This time I didn’t. I’m going off on a little tangent here so bear with me; The world of Amish and ex-Amish is fairly small. Wikipedia puts the Old Order Amish population around 250,000. Any Amish person who gets around, knows people or has some connection to someone in almost every Amish community. If an ex-Amish person tells you that they know someone on one of these shows, then there’s a good chance he or she is telling the truth. I personally know about half a dozen Amish and ex-Amish kids that have appeared on a variety of these shows and I know quite a few more that declined parts in those shows. So far, I’ve only been asked by one production company to appear on an Amish reality show. I politely declined. End of tangent.
So on to the authenticity of Amish Mafia… The cast of the show appear to be real ex-Amish people but the reality of the show seems to end there. The whole idea of there being an “Amish mafia” that protects the Amish is ludicrous. I watched several of the episodes and found them to be highly amusing–the basic plot of the show is that amazingly farcical.
The Discovery Channel openly admits that the Amish deny the existence of an Amish mafia. Of course they’re just capitalizing on a conspiracy-oriented, fantasy-prone viewership that believes denial is proof of truth.
Before I get myself all worked up about it, I’ll just let a pair of renowned Amish experts tell you in their own words:
“My own view is this is trash TV. To call these shows documentaries is a fraudulent lie.” ~Donald Kraybill, professor at Elizabethtown College and a prominent researcher of the Anabaptist lifestyle [link]
“When I first saw the trailer [for the show], I thought maybe it was a ‘Saturday Night Live’ skit on reality television because it was so far fetched. My sense is this Amish mafia is about as real as the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company in The Office.” ~Donald Weaver-Zercher, professor at Elizabethtown College and expert on the Amish [link]
I conclude this post with an update on Breaking Amish: The word on the street is that the production company is working on a second season of the show and they are currently filming in Pinecraft–the Amish community in Sarasota, Florida.