Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
(Courtesy photo) Kate, Jeremiah, Sabrina, Abe and Rebecca from TLC's “Breaking Amish.”
Scott D. Pierce: Amish join Muslims, polygamists on TLC

By Scott D. Pierce

| The Salt Lake Tribune

First Published Sep 05 2012 05:06 pm • Last Updated Dec 25 2012 11:31 pm

TLC has given us shows about Utah polygamists and Michigan Muslims. So maybe a show about Ohio and Pennsylvania Amish and Mennonites makes some sort of sense.

It’s part of the channel’s "commitment to explore cultures beyond our own personal reality," according to TLC general manager Amy Winter. And she said that with a straight face.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

Let’s be clear: TLC is exploiting these people (and all the others on its multitude of "reality" shows) for ratings and profits. The people in the series are willing participants, but that doesn’t mean they’re not being used.

And they’re using TLC as well. Kody Brown and his "Sister Wives" made it clear they were hoping the series would allow them "to be seen and understood without prejudice."

Suehaila Amen, who participated in the short-lived "All-American Muslim," expressed a similar sentiment. "This is our opportunity to show the world that we’re just [like] any other American family."

But there’s something vaguely uncomfortable about watching the five young people in TLC’s new series "Breaking Amish" (Sunday, 11 p.m., TLC). They know little about the "English" world — the world most of us inhabit — so making the decision to allow their lives to be filmed seems more exploitative than most.

The premise is that the three young women (ages 20, 22 and 25) and two young men (ages 22 and 32) leave their farms and sheltered lives and head to New York City. It’s not like leaving home to go to college or for jobs. These people are running the risk of being shunned by their families and friends and being cut off from their lives to this point.

"I don’t think there was anything wrong with wanting to go out and explore the world and see if that’s really what you want," said Sabrina, 25, the only Mennonite on the show. (The other four are Amish, an even more restrictive culture that shuns electricity and all modern conveniences.) "You’ve got to make a decision in the end, but there’s so much at stake."

Like other so-called "reality" series, the nine-part "Breaking Amish" isn’t altogether real. Executive producer Eric Evangelista insisted the show is "authentic," but they aren’t simply documenting lives, they’re directly influencing them.

The five participants "were going to leave and they didn’t know how to make that happen," he said. "We provided them with a much safer way to do that."

story continues below
story continues below

In other words, this is sort of "The Real World: Amish."

And there’s something a little heartbreaking about watching these young adults struggling with the "guilt of leaving home," as Kate, 21, put it.

"They tell you you’re going to go to hell," Sabrina said. "And nobody wants to go to hell. Like, it’s really intimidating."

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment

About Reader Comments

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.