Many of you know that over the past year I have worked with various production companies on Amish-related TV projects, none which have ultimately panned out. I was willing to work on them because I believed – and still believe – that TV and the Amish can be combined to create a program that is respectful, educational, and entertaining. Vanilla Ice proved that at least on those counts, I was correct His show is actually very close to what I was trying to create, so I admittedly watched Episode 1, which aired Sunday night,with a touch of envy.Vanilla Ice’s show pushed all the right buttons: it was respectful, insightful, and also fun. Believe me, I am surprised I am saying this because this sounded like such a stupid show, but I stand corrected: I heartily recommend “Vanilla Ice Goes Amish.” I’ll give it a grade “A-” rating so far. The show airs Saturday evenings over the next two months on the DIY channel at 10 p.m.
The only thing that I wish I knew was: how did they pull it off? I scoured the hills of Holmes County, Ohio for literally months last year for my proposed show and, in the end, came up empty-handed. Vanilla Ice and his crew had name recognition, money, and the good name of the DIY channel in their corner along with the local tourism board. I had none of those and the network I was representing was the sometimes tawdry National Geographic Channel. My show would have been very similar to Vanilla Ice’s.I talk about my year working in Amish reality TV in an upcoming book: My Amish Reality. So stay tuned.
Some of you may say: “wait a minute! The Amish don’t allow themselves to be photographed, so how can they be on a TV show?” I explain this in greater depth in my upcoming book and in Lesson 2 of Amish101.. But suffice it to say, not all Amish are against photography. More evangelical and progressive groups like the New Order Amish Fellowship (a horse and buggy group sometimes known as the New New Order) and the New Order Amish are tolerant of photography. Still, even some Old Order Amish are personally not opposed to photography, but they don’t want to incur the wrath of church and social stigma for participating in a project involving photography. In any given church – Amish or not- there are plenty of people who don’t observe every rule and this is also true among the Amish. So what I ran up against more often than not was less an issue of being against photography and more of “What will my friends and neighbors say if I participate?” The social pressure exerted on an Amish person who participates in a TV project is potentially enormous and negative. So my biggest question is less “how did the DIY Network find Amish participants and more: how were they able to overcome the social stigma?”
My guess is that once the project had the full weight of the local tourism board, the participants were somewhat “inoculated” from criticism. They could claim, rightly so, that they were doing something that served a “greater good”, calling attention to the area’s rich tradition in furniture-making and craftsmanship. I am guessing that there was some intense lobbying of bishops by representatives from the tourism board and DIY to get them to go along.
Some other observations about the show:
1) the ornate granite countertops being installed in the Amish home on the show were unusual. I’ve been in hundreds of Amish homes and have not seen anything like that.
2) People on other websites have expressed surprise about the Amish woman hugging Vanilla Ice when he was leaving. It was just a friendly good-bye hug, it’s something you wouldn’t see in a conservative community, which this obviously was not.
3) Amishman John Schlabach and Vanilla Ice both sat on the farmhouse porch and smoked a pipe. Tobacco use is uncommon, but definitely not unheard of, among Amish men.
What was interesting to me is that the Amish participants appeared to be not just from the most progressive quarters of the church. The New Order Amish Fellowship do have indoor electric, but these Amish had indoor gas lamps.