What is “romanticizing”? This term refers to painting over a certain reality in order to make it more pleasing to the eye, ear, and mind. Such behavior, whether done consciously or unconsciously, is extremely harmful when serious social issues are involved and romanticization becomes synonymous with silencing the underprivileged.
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When it comes to publications about the Amish, non-Amish academics, writers and producers apply more creative liberty than honesty when describing or depicting traditional practicing Amish society. Yes, Amish Country has its beauty and advantages compared to some aspects of mainstream American life, but glossing over any unfavorable news sets a dangerous precedent. And it already has. The Amish are said to enjoy a nonexistent crime rate and higher-than-normal levels of morality and conscientiousness. Quite frankly, no such humans exist and neither will they ever. In reality, claims like these are concocted to draw attention away from other faults.
There is rampant physical, sexual, and mental abuse in the Amish community, due to an unwritten code of silence. Regardless of anything one might experience, one must not come out against the Amish establishment and authorities. Thus, the absence of complaints exudes a false sense of peace and stability within the community. Americans on the outside looking in see . . .
. . . close-knit families working the farms and other occupations together, completely ignorant of a harsh reality underneath that many live through.
Television is the only way for a good portion of Americans to gain insight into Amish life. Unfortunately, this rare opportunity is wasted with productions like PBS’s 1975 so-called documentary The Amish: A People of Preservation (written and directed by all male Mennonites presenting themselves as experts on the Amish). Purported as truth, reality shows draw from that mythology, cemented in the American psyche by joint efforts between the Christian Right and the Amish Church (led by all male clergy and elders). They rely on Americans identifying with Judeo-Christian values and a frontier history, just as we are taught in our schools and churches, to keep the myth alive.
The media establishment eats up these marketing campaigns with a voracious appetite. Consumers love watching the Amish remind them of a lost glory, while they never know or understand how an Amish individual’s freedom of choice is ignored. Allowing Constitutional freedoms to be stripped because of certain people’s comfort makes me pessimistic about the possibility of a future intervention by our legal system.
As long as the Amish seem perfect, no one will feel the need to help. Why should they when the Amish live in a supposed paradise? At the same time, how could anyone ever believe that a society is 100% positive 24/7? Although we are all in the same country, the Amish seem far away to many. The perceived distance minimizes empathy on the part of the viewer, while the false sense of perfection extinguishes it altogether.
How do we solve this issue? First, setting unrealistic expectations for the Amish community needs to stop. We are enabling abuse and facilitating victim blaming. Every Amish individual deserves to be heard, whether they be a small girl or an elderly man. Most importantly, pressuring media outlets and publishing houses to portray accurate information on the Amish would do a lot in getting justice for a disadvantaged community.
At the end of the day, the Amish are not that different from us: they are human beings, too, and deserve to be heard.
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A.C., Summer Intern for the Amish Heritage Foundation
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