This is an example of how interactions used to play out when someone asked me “Where are you from?”:
“Oh, I’m from Holmes County, Ohio.”
*received blank stare with tentative nodding*
“It’s, um, mid-Ohio, in the foothills? Really rural? Like, 30 minutes south of Wooster? Uh, almost exactly two hours drive between Cleveland and Columbus?”
*more nodding, but hope is fading*
“Okay, it has the largest population of Amish like, anywhere. In the whole world.”
“But isn’t that in Pennsylvania?” they ask. I shake my head and break a little inside.
“Nope, Holmes County has more than anyone.” Gears turn and I know what’s next:
“O-H-H-H…so are you Amish??”
“No. No, I am not.”
Some roads are indeed still dirt.
But now television, that wit of modern-day exploitation media, has forced a new act to this whence-I-came drama:
*I politely endure the previous script*
“O-H-H-H…so are you Amish??”
“Not now, nor never, my good chap.” I prepare to move on like usual, except:
“BUT SURELY YOU AT LEAST KNOW SOMEONE IN THE AMISH MAFIA AMIRIGHT?!”
*My mouth drops open; my eyes widen; I reach out to the nearest passerby to borrow another hand because I don’t have enough for the facepalms this deserves.*
Listen, there is no such thing as an Amish Mafia. It surprises me to encounter people who know damn well how network reality shows work, (that they are mostly if not entirely scripted entertainment save for a select few) biting the hook on the new Amish shows like “Breaking Amish” and the Discovery Channel’s “Amish Mafia”.
I get it that an overwhelming majority of Americans don’t know much of anything about the Amish, and that they are a culture categorically misrepresented and lampooned. From [a movie I can’t live without] KingPin to “Law and Order” spinoffs to even the more accurate but still largely narrow-sighted 2002 documentary Devil’s Playground, Amish are portrayed as a world further outside American society than [I would argue] any other sub-culture living here today.
But, come on. An Amish mafia? Rumspringa gone wild? Entertaining, no doubt, but to believe it’s a real thing? COME ON.
Here’s the reality, then it’s back to games and scary movies and all that junk: The Amish are the best neighbors you can have. They are normal, reasonable, vastly hard-working, good humored, and intelligent. They may have a quietly removed lifestyle but they–at least in Holmes County, OH–inspire a unique sense of overall community “pitching in for your neighbor in need.” They always wave back if you pass them driving their buggies or on foot. They bake absurdly delicious pies. They come in many variations of relaxed to orthodox. They shop at WalMart. They are keen businessmen and women who know how to capitalize on their life’s phenomena to sell their woodworking and other crafts. They are as susceptible to alcoholism as anyone. They are deeply, staunchly religious but are to my experience the most graceful with their faith. They are expert huntsmen and better environmentalists than anyone else has a right to claim.
Best of all, they push a drive through the rolling hills of mid-Ohio from pretty to stunning: be it a snapshot of the male family members coaxing Clydesdales through a harvest, or a vista of golden fields and forest without one telephone or electrical line anywhere to be seen on the horizon.
So enjoy the shows, enjoy how society has given thumbs up for the entertainment industry’s growing perversion of geographic, economic, and cultural strata instead of helping to bring us together by celebrating reality. But for the love of the one ring, keep in mind that there is no such thing as an Amish Mafia.