Jewish World Review Feb. 10, 2004 / 18 Shevat, 5764

Lloyd Garver

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Leave the Amish alone | You can no longer spoof "reality shows." They're spoofing themselves. If I made up a ridiculous-sounding premise, we'd probably see it on TV next week. I'm not exaggerating. Is television really above putting on outrageous things like "I Cheated With Your Mother" or "Let's Tempt The Amish Kids," or "Eat What Your Pet Eats?"

Actually, I just tricked you. The Amish reality show will be on the air soon.

Traditionally, young Amish men and women go into mainstream society for a year before they decide whether to return to their community. In this show, during this important year, young Amish people will move into a city and live in a house with non-Amish young people. In other words, they'll be exposed to all kinds of temptations, and each week the audience will presumably enjoy seeing if these young people will stray or not.

I'm not a fan of reality shows, but I've always felt, if you like them, watch them. If you don't, don't. But this Amish thing has made me think about reality shows far more than I ever thought I would.

Why do they even call them "reality shows?" How "real" is a date, a kiss, or falling in love when a camera crew is just a few feet away from the lucky couple? Does anybody believe that contestants are ever really in physical danger? In the real world, do we judge a person based on his or her ability to eat a bowl of worms topped with maggots?

I guess if you like these shows, your feeling is, "What do I care if they're real? I find them entertaining and fun." Good enough. But how much longer will you feel that way? How many of them can you watch? Each successful one begets several clones. And the copies often lack the imagination and budget of the originals. So, if Donald Trump telling a young apprentice, "You're fired!" results in high ratings, another network will probably bring us Sal, from Sal's Groceries down the block, firing his after-school help.

But the networks know that audiences get bored watching the same old reality shows and their imitations. So the shows keep getting more and more outrageous. That's probably how the Amish show came about.

Again, I know there are more important things in the world to get upset about than television shows with questionable taste. But for some reason, the existence of the Amish show has been bugging me ever since I heard about it. After giving it considerable thought, now I know why: BECAUSE IT'S ABOUT THE AMISH!

Maybe we idealize them, but to many of us, the Amish symbolize a simple, pure, hard-working life. They don't use electricity or cars or other conveniences. One of the reasons why so many people admire and respect them is because part of us wishes we could live a life without modern encumbrances. Just knowing that their old-fashioned ways exist somehow connects us to an uncomplicated life. It's like if somebody took away farms and perfect houses with white picket fences. Even if we were never really going to move to one, we'd be upset because the fantasy would be gone.

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I'm sure it's hard enough to keep the Amish community and culture thriving without throwing the temptations of body piercings, silicone breasts, and interviews on the E Channel at their young people. The list of people and situations that could be mocked or debased by TV is a long one. Can't television just leave the Amish alone?

But maybe I've got it all wrong. Maybe this is just a bigger test for Amish youth. Maybe if these kids are exposed to all that is superficial in today's showbiz world and they still want to return to their world, it demonstrates an even stronger faith.

Regardless, I'm not going to watch the show. If it's a hit, maybe I'll watch the sequel. It will probably be something like "Battle Of The Religious Stars — The Amish vs. The Hassidic Nude Tug O' War." Think I'm exaggerating? Stay tuned.

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JWR contributor Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover. Comment by clicking here. Visit his website by clicking here.


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© 2003, Lloyd Garver