Lancaster County groups pan reality shows about Amish
HARRISBURG — They typically wear plain clothing with nothing as fancy as a button or a zipper, travel by horse-drawn buggy and shun modern conveniences such as electricity.
It's that Old World charm of the Amish that draws 8 million tourists — and $1.9 billion — each year to Lancaster County, home of the nation's largest Amish community of 31,000. What the Amish don't do, supporters say, is tote rifles as part of a violent protection racket — as depicted in the television show “Amish Mafia” — or regularly defy their religion, as in “Breaking Amish” and “Breaking Amish: Brave New World.” And Amish horror stories are not the norm, despite the plot lines of the upcoming “Amish Haunting.”
“This is a false portrayal,” said filmmaker Mary Haverstick, who is leading a push to eject the shows, airing on the Discovery Channel and related networks, from Lancaster County.
The movement is gathering support because of what some consider a demeaning, inaccurate portrayal of the gentle, devout group.
Hotels and restaurants are urged to turn away film crews, Haverstick said.
Last week, more than a dozen state officials, including Gov. Tom Corbett and Congressmen Joe Pitts and Patrick Meehan, issued a statement citing “bigoted” and “negative, inaccurate and potentially damaging portrayal of (the) Amish” and demanding an end to the shows.
The Lancaster Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Convention and Visitors Bureau and a regional interfaith coalition of clergy echoed those comments.
“I've lived here for 50 years and know many Amish folks,” said Haverstick. “They are exceptionally vulnerable to this type of exploitation.”
But some wonder if the hard-edged reality TV approach is that different from the soft exploitation of the Amish by the local tourism industry. In both, the Amish are unpaid, costumed “extras.”
Pennsylvania Dutch Convention and Visitors Bureau television ads feature the Amish, and seeing the religious sect is a top reason tourists give for visiting, said bureau spokesman Joel Cliff. Tourism dollars generate $363 million in tax revenue and support 24,000 jobs.
Most tourism is respectful of the Amish, who sell their quilts, furniture, and produce, Cliff said.
“They've learned to live with and benefit from,” he said.
Haverstick says there is no comparison between the two approaches, as one celebrates the Amish for who they are and the other depicts them falsely.
“One man called me and said they are portrayed like garbage in the shows,” she said. “There was pain in his voice.”
There is no immediate evidence the reality shows have caused harm, said Tom Baldrige, the Lancaster chamber president, but problems could surface down the road.
“Long term,” Baldrige said, “it may hurt tourism. They make a mockery of the Amish.”
Heading into its fourth season, “Amish Mafia” has drawn the fiercest criticism.
“There is no Amish Mafia,” Donald Kraybill, a professor at Elizabethtown College and co-author of “The Amish,” told WITF radio in Harrisburg recently. “It is an utter fabrication.”
Discovery Channel spokeswoman Laurie Goldberg declined to comment. The lead producer of all four shows, Eric Evangelista, whose Hot Snake Media company produces content for the Discovery Channel, did not respond to requests for comment.
The area has drawn visitors for nearly 60 years, ever since the 1955 Broadway musical “Plain and Fancy,” about a sophisticated New York couple who inherit property in Amish Country. Americans soon found it an easy day trip from much of the East Coast.
The 1985 thriller “Witness,” starring Harrison Ford, was filmed mostly in Lancaster County, and attracted a new crop of visitors from Europe and Japan, Kraybill said.
“We still get people asking to see the ‘Witness' farm,” said Cliff.
Old and new businesses capitalizing on the Amish sometimes collide.
The Amish Experience in the village of Bird-in-Hand, expanded its tours in 2013 to include “Amish Mafia” locations, said agency owner Brad Igou. Almost immediately, Discovery Channel lawyers sent a cease-and-desist letter, he said.
Tour guides still mention “Amish Mafia,” Igou said, but only to debunk what he calls the show's many inaccuracies. Their script has been approved by Amish religious elders, if not by the Discovery Channel, he said.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Wines claimed to be toxic with arsenic won’t be pulled by state Liquor Control Board
- Wife: Abu-Jamal ‘not doing well’
- Sandusky attorney, ‘victim’ of gambling addiction, waives hearing on charges he stole client funds
- Public session altered by Wolf
- Man decorating Scranton-area family grave is killed by falling headstone
- Four veterinarians charged for doping race horses at Penn National
- Veteran designation on Pennsylvania driver’s licenses loosely audited
- ‘Repulsed’ Penn State president to study Greek activities
- PSU frat members, victims aid in investigation
- Mother, grandparents of starved boy sentenced to prison
- Pa. trooper wounded in barracks ambush hopes to return to force