Many people overlook the harm caused by the Discovery Channel’s television show Amish Mafia, perhaps assuming it’s similar in nature to previous Amish-themed “reality” programs — distasteful, but nothing to get worked up about. Or they dismiss it as mostly fake. Or, more sadly, whether Amish or non-Amish, they simply have come to take as given the regular parade of TV shows degrading Amish identity.
The time for these shows to stop was years ago. But Amish Mafia enters new territory. And the difference lies in what’s real and what’s fake. While the show portrays the obviously fake and clownish criminal antics of its Amish and Mennonite actors, it despicably makes use of the real-life Nickel Mines school massacre and recent violent attacks on Amish families by an Ohio cult to supplement the entertainment.
With these tragic elements of reality woven into the plot, the show’s actors, speaking in Pennsylvania Dutch and wearing Amish garb, do everything from smash up their enemies’ cars and buggies to provide viewers a glimpse of a “typical” Amish home with a three-person toilet for when “the ladies need to go at the same time.”
In an episode of the show in which they “speak out” against claims of the show being fake — that there is no Amish mafia — the actors use as evidence the presence of their names in the genealogy book Descendants of Christian Fisher (the “Fisher book” as it’s commonly known to many Amish and Mennonites interested in their ancestry). If nothing else, this scene makes clear that the show is a bigoted attack on Amish identity — one that has the audacity to use recent tragic episodes of Amish victimization while making its Amish participants look like buffoons.
David George discusses how Amish Mafia exploits the Nickel Mines shooting as entertainment:
‘Amish Mafia’: Amish gone wild?
Brett Hambright exposes Amish Mafia as a fraudulent portrayal of the Amish:
Is ‘Amish Mafia’ real or fake? Lancaster County viewers weigh in
Michael Shank exposes Amish Mafia as a shameful and unrealistic portrayal of the Amish: ‘Amish Mafia’ is a shameful, unrealistic portrayal of plain people
David Weaver-Zercher examines the phenomenon of Amish-themed reality television:
Viewers’ desires vs. reality
Lisa Miller reviews Amish Mafia in the context of what its popularity says about society:
‘Amish Mafia,’ a real exercise in pop culture exploitation
David George explores what mistreatment towards the Amish says about larger society:
‘Amish Mafia’: Is there really such a thing as an Amish thug?
David George expresses his views on Amish Mafia for Lancaster County readers:
Treatment of Amish a work of silly fiction
Donald Kraybill is quoted in this piece, Discovery Channel’s next reality series: “Amish Mafia”
[Editor's note: The article above appears here courtesy of Mennonite World Review, where it was first published on Jan. 24, 2013. The author, David George, is a 1998 graduate of EMU who also holds an MBA from Yale University, earned in 2005. Under "more commentaries," two of the commentators are also EMU alumni: Michael Shank, who earned an MA in conflict transformation in 2005, and Donald Kraybill, a 1967 graduate.]