Shame on ‘Breaking Amish’
“I don’t think it’s right that the woman has to stay beneath the man. I think we should be equal,” says Rebecca, a pink-cheeked, 20-year-old Amish woman in Punxatawney, Pennsylvania, as she handwashes clothes at 5:45 in the morning. Soon, Rebecca will trade laundry, outhouses, and floor-skimming dresses for strip clubs, jeans, and bars, in the ultimate devil’s playground, New York City. With the new series Breaking Amish, TLC follows Rebecca and four other Amish and Mennonite young people living together in a Manhattan hotel on their rumspringa, the window of late adolescence in which youths venture out into the world for the first time to make an informed decision whether austere religious life is for them. From the show’s teasers, Rebecca, Sabrina, Kate, Abe, and Jeremiah will get drunk and tattooed, spin on stripper poles, and discover a little more equality between the sexes, while also pining for the simple life they left behind.
Breaking Amish is the latest addition to The Learning Channel’s (commonly known as The Leering Channel) provocative reality TV programming. Once a boring educational channel where you could watch a documentary on the spotted owl or get tips for cooking the perfect soufflé, TLC is now the go-to place for gawking. Breaking Amish appears alongside 19 Kids and Counting about the fertile Duggar family; Abby and Brittany, which follows a set of conjoined twins as they navigate college life; Sister Wives, which may instigate the formation of a Mormon Anti-Defamation League; and the self-explanatory freakshows: My Strange Addiction, My Crazy Obsession, and Strange Sex. Breaking Amish is a hybrid of the ethnic minstrel show—along the lines of Jersey Shore or Shahs of Sunset, where a culture is reduced to its caricature parts—and The Real World, where good looking twentysomethings live together in a new city, full of possibilities. (All of the Amish stars of the show are remarkably good-looking. One imagines plucky TLC producers hiding behind barns with binoculars to do their casting). But what sets Breaking Amish apart from the other shows is how much is at stake for the stars: their religion, their families, their identities—the very world they’ve known up until now.