Amish in the City: Has Reality TV Gone too Far?
When television network UPN announcedAmish in the City, their latest attempt to capitalize on the popularity of reality TV shows, many journalists questioned how it was different from a similar show that never got off the ground. CBS, whose parent company owns UPN, last year cancelled plans to air The Real Beverly Hillbillies, in which poor Appalachian families would be paid to live in a Beverly Hills mansion. Interest groups and legislators said the show would be insensitive to Appalachian culture and communities.
This year, it's Amish in the City, which will place five Amish teens during rumspringa—an Amish tradition allowing teens 16 and older more freedom from community rules before choosing whether or not to join the church—alongside five "mainstream" teens. The point, execs say, is to see what happens to Amish kids "who will walk down Rodeo Drive and be freaked out by what they see." It's not intended to be insulting, the network says. Still, after one CBS executive admits that the series was planned in part "because CBS couldn't do 'The Real Beverly Hillbillies.'" The Amish, he said, "don't have as good a lobbying group" as rural Appalachians do.
That is about all that Donald B. Kraybill and UPN can agree on. Kraybill, author of The Amish: Why They Enchant Us and many other books on the Amish and Mennonites, believes it would be impossible for the show to accurately depict the Amish community, and that any effort would be by nature insensitive to Amish prohibitions on graven images. Yesterday, CT talked with Kraybill, who is Senior Fellow in the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College.
Do you think Hollywood has more of an interest in the Amish than the rest of the country does?
I think ...