What is it with kids today? Their constant tweeting, Facebooking and texting makes it seems like they need to be in touch with each other at all times, just in case one of the Twilight stars unexpectedly takes his shirt off or Justin Bieber goes out in public. Luckily, there is still a place in the world that’s free from social media and pre-pubescent pop singers. Sure, it might sound like heaven but it’s just rural Ohio.
Living With The Amish is C4’s follow-up to last year’s Amish: The World’s Squarest Teenagers, but after hosting the American youths in the first series, this time it will be English teenagers going to live among the reclusive, religious community. The results are surprisingly heart-warming and unlike us, the show steers clear of cheap humour in favour of touching sentiment.
With the English teens trading in their iPods for hymnals, their mobiles for butter churns and their hoodies for… well, whatever you call Amish clothes, they are brought into a home where manual labour is the main pastime and silence is golden. While you might think that Channel 4 would choose rebellious youths for the show in hopes of an explosive clash, they responsibly go for six mild-mannered, insightful kids who all have something to learn from this other world.
The teenagers don’t exactly have religious awakenings, but it’s clear that they each take something away from the lifestyle and change for the better because of it. Most of them have literally never done a day’s work in their lives but their appreciation for the simple routine is uplifting.
One of the kids, who was orphaned at an early age and now loafs about playing video games all day, actually drew tears from his host after accepting a traditional Amish bowl cut. Although whether they were tears of appreciation, or the reaction of a someone who had finally realised how ridiculous his own hair looks, is unclear.
Naturally the show is riddled with predictable moments, like a girl’s complaints about how the bonnet destroys her individuality and one teen asking if a neighbour put lights on his buggy to impress the ladies, but on the whole this is a long way from the culture-shock freak-show porn that C4 is sometimes guilty of. These kids prove that not everybody who signs up for a reality show has severe mental problems and their attitudes give reason to believe in what seems like an otherwise bleak generation.
The Amish are also more than they seem. As the first such community to open their doors to outsiders in this way, they are never pushy or defiant about their religion and simply hope to inspire others to live wholesome, uncomplicated lives. Clearly, they are not some sort of alien race (as I have always suspected) but share a lot in common with their guests who on the surface appear to come from a completely different world.
As emotionally shallow as these types of show tend to be, Living With The Amish provides some real insight, not only into the rural lives of the reclusive farmers but into the modern teenager and what they are capable of as well. Whether the whole concept is worth six episodes is another matter..