Reality show’s Amish teens seem more grounded than city kids


One of the joys of reality TV is making fun of the participants. We watch so we can mock.

But in UPN’s Amish in the City, it’s not the straw-hat-wearing, electricity-avoiding characters who embarrass themselves. It’s the city folk. The two worlds collide in a house in the hills above Los Angeles.

“I feel like I’m on Cribs,” says college student Whitney, an 18-year-old from South Central, when she sees the snazzy spread.

In the two-hour premiere, which aired Wednesday, she and five other Real World types aren’t told they’ll be rooming with peers who’ve never seen a dishwasher or an avocado, although a display of traditional Amish headgear should’ve offered a hint.

“I just thought it was very retro,” says Kevan, a Las Vegas swim teacher and sales rep, in the funniest, unintended punch line of the first episode.

Pop-culture speak out of the mouths of the MTV-raised generation, reducing everything to a fashion statement, is one of the most entertaining aspects of Amish in the City. And it’s brought into stark relief against the show’s other basis in reality: The Amish young people are on their own version of spring break called rumspringa, a Pennsylvania Dutch word that means “running around.”

Many Amish communities believe that, beginning at age 16, their children should be permitted to explore the modern world before deciding whether to be baptized into the Christian sect. The five Amish show participants, who range in age from 18 to 24, were already on rumspringa when they were recruited for the 10-hour series.

This clash of cultures gives the show more shades than your average reality-TV muck. The sensitivity to the Amish point of view also may have something to do with the involvement of executive producers Daniel Laikind and Steven Cantor, who made a heartbreaking documentary called Devil’s Playground about the consequences of the unusual Amish practice.

In the early going, Amish in the City is too zippy to dig in that hard. But the first two hours are illuminating and occasionally moving as Jonas, Randy, Ruth, Miriam and early breakout star Mose try to balance their natural curiosity with the tenets of a strict Amish upbringing.

Naïve and unschooled, they’re also wise and even tolerant, especially next to their theoretically more sophisticated counterparts. When they arrive at the house in full traditional garb, they’re greeted with ignorance and derision. And they’re the ones who are ready to put themselves into new and sometimes emotionally challenging situations.

That’s because the Amish have made a more difficult and therefore better-thought-out choice. In contrast, for the average twentysomething, starring on a reality show is an end in itself.

Maybe the city kids – playing typical roles such as party girl, stud and flamboyant gay guy – give more rounded performances as the series progresses. In the meantime, watching them enact the rituals of youth culture, including turning on each other for our entertainment, will have to do.


(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
The Dallas Morning News, USA
July 28, 2004
Manuel Mendoza
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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday July 28, 2004.
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