Thursday, July 29, 2004

Amish in the City - 1.01 "This is My Very First Time on an Escalator"

Going into the show, I'd already learned about a few aspects of Amish culture -- notably its belief in baptism during adulthood, which, in my agnostic esteem, is one of the most prescient tenets I've heard from an organized religion. As a result, I'd idealized the Amish as a idyllic sanctuary from contemporary stress and drama and I would have chosen to live as an Amish if not for my love of tv and toilet paper.

This episode balanced out some of these misconceptions -- which, I admit, have the stink of condescension in them. For one, the Amish vocabulary isn't unfamiliar with ye auld cusswords, and apparently, the favorite word among the Amish kids in the show to express admiration is "awesome." More seriously, though, is the gender inequities of Amish culture. Ingrained in modern culture, gender equality is a given, if not in practice, then conceptually -- and hearing that Amish men expect women to clean up their messes raised my progressive hackles. A (perhaps) beneficial result, though, is that Amish inequities do remind me of "English" (that is to say, not Amish) inequities and that I shouldn't feel terribly smug about how much better we are in this respect.

However, and this a big however, some of the Amish kids are refreshingly admirable. Miriam is unexpectedly worldly and carries herself with surprising confidence as a woman in the city. Ruth, similarly, doesn't let her fears (e.g. swimming) get in the way of potentially eye-opening experiences. Mose, from what I could tell the oldest, is likewise determined to participate in new things in their entirety (i.e. no half-steps), and in being so gutsy, earns incredible respect and awe from me, and not even leaving the toilet seat up or wiping it off or whatever will detract from that. How can you think poorly of a person who jumps back into the ocean after nearly drowning?

Speaking of the near-drowning incident, the reaction by the city kids was disappointing and telling of their intractable narrow-mindedness in tolerating difference. Among the first things they do the Amish kids is change them to look like us. Their primary assumptions about behavior are grounded firmly in their own values and expectations, and blindingly steamroll over the Amish.

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