What's Happening?

16.4.14

David Basckin... On the Couch: Amish Punch



The problem – or more accurately one of the problems – with Banshee was the curious image it created of the Amish people, a backwards-looking Christian community in America. Banshee suggested that where there was repression and conformity, the exact opposites ran riot in the secret actions and minds of the people. 

It took only a few minutes into Amish: Out of Order (Nat Geo) to discover that febrile television fiction is an inadequate alternative to the truth. Amish: Out of Order is a new series and it examines some of the oddness of this lifestyle.

The focus of the documentary was the contrast between the lives of those within the community, and a selection of young adults who had voluntarily removed themselves and begun non-Amish lives. We had to take the Amish experience second-hand, through the reports of those who had left since the Amish rejection of much of contemporary life and technology included video cameras.

The ex-Amish were more accessible and for those of us expecting Banshee-type revelations there was nothing but disappointment. The ex-Amish it appeared were quiet, law-abiding and dutiful. The only mild deviance on display was the curious desire of one of their number to take part in cage fighting. This is a raw type of pugilism and given the Amish total acceptance of non-violence, something of a game changer. 

What we learnt is that most of the cage fighter’s supporters were ex-Amish, just like himself. These were jolly, upright, careful American rural young men whose affection for their cage-fighting companion was total. In short, the ex-Amish were close, supportive and companionable united by a shared past and the pleasing ambiguity of a life in the contemporary world with cellphones and indoor plumbing. Stand by for next week’s revelations…

The thing about Christmas Specials is that they are: 1) at Christmas and 2) special.
Encountering a Christmas Special in April is something of a time-travelling shock, comparable I guess to living in a different dimension or universe. Maybe Christmas is a state of mind.

The Special in question was Call the Midwife, a kind of hospital drama with a large, late-middle-aged following. Located in the 50s and 60s of the previous century the show tells the stories of bicycling midwives who live in a convent and service the poverty-stricken birth-related needs of the surrounding London community. This is just fine, believe me. Good clean stuff, heartening public service morality, colourful local characters with Blytonesque sensibilities, the whole nine yards. 

Yet for all the moderate reserve of the show, it does document the onset of National Health and the massive benefits this free service brought to the poor, disadvantaged and oppressed. 
But this was a Christmas Special, remember. As a result the show was awash with a multitude of little events, nearly all heart-warming with the exception of the outbreak of polio. Well what the hell, you can’t have everything. Unless of course you are Nigel Farage, the amiably normal, drinking, smoking and politically incorrect chap who leads the United Kingdom Independence Party. 

This is a tiny fringe party in British politics with a single issue: opposition to the EU. Imagine everyone’s surprise when this completely ordinary person totally defeated Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister of the coalition-governed United Kingdom in an extensive television debate. 

What a blast it was to watch this on Sky last week. How very different in every possible sense from the political engagements that clog our local channels.

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