Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Amish ambush

The Amish may be giving fundamentalists a good name.

A review alerted me to the Channel 4 experiment of bringing some Amish teenagers to encounter some British ones. Channel 4 may have hoped for a spectacular audience enhancing clash. It may have anticipated previously enclosed young people kicking over the traces and embracing our freedoms. But that wasn’t what the review reported. It told of a chaste Amish young women telling a promiscuous inner city British contemporary that she would rather not have physical intimacy until she was married; ‘to tell you the truth neither would I’, was the unexpected reply from the young women who had perhaps simply been manipulated into her behaviour by the norms of her peers.

So I thought I’d have a look and caught just quarter of an hour of this week’s programme. They were in the countryside this time. The male rural teenagers speaking of getting wasted each weekend could perhaps have carried off their less than fully convincing bravado when colluding with their mates, but they seemed self conscious trying to keep this up under the unmoved and uncomprehending gaze of their far from naive female auditor. She simply asked whether it would be a good idea to stop and thus set an example to the slightly younger teenagers who wouldn’t then feel they had to follow the same route. ‘It probably would be,’ was the slightly shame faced reply.

In each case our teenagers were simply reporting and replicating ‘what everyone does’ and, although it can’t be as simple as this, it appeared that all that was needed was for someone totally other to counter this for them to make them feel and express dissatisfaction with the meaninglessness of the situation into which they had been trapped.

I’m reminded of the moment in an earlier such documentary when an unlikely group of young man were sent to live in a monastery. Some of them had slipped out to the pub. The Abbot came to reflect on this with them, rather than deliver the remonstration which would have increased the television ratings. ‘Would you prefer to be ruled by your personal appetites, society's customs and your ingrained habits,’ he asked, ‘or would you like to be set free by following the Rule?’.

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