Living on the fringes of society

It seems that the National Geographic Channel and The Learning Channel are flooded with shows about “underground” American cultures.

It all seems to have started with “My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding,” which features Romany Gypsies, primarily from the south.

That was followed by “American Colony: Meet the Hutterites,” a reality show that followed a colony from Montana through their daily lives.

Then there was “American Gypsies,” a show that was supposed to show “real” gypsy life in America — one that was supposed to break all the stereotypes associated with gypsies, you know, like them being thieves, fortune tellers and wanderers. Oddly enough, nearly all the women of the family worked as fortunetellers, so it was kind of hard to see where they were breaking those stereotypes.

Now TLC has launched “Breaking Amish,” another reality TV show that follows four Amish and one Mennonite as they discover American life outside their farms, in New York City. They are oblivious, to say the least.

The show features two Amish males (Abe and Jeremiah), two Amish females (Kate and Rebecca) and a female Mennonite (Sabrina), who are doing a type of “The Real World” meets the Amish kind of show. They are all staying together in a hotel in NYC. They get to wear “English” clothes for the first time, which means they get to dress like everyone else and don’t have to wear their traditional clothes. They are also able to explore the city and experience things they’ve never done before.

In one episode, the group — save for Jeremiah — went out for sushi. Only Kate seemed to appreciate the meal. Jeremiah, meanwhile, went off on his own to buy new clothes. He’s a bit of an Amish bad boy. While the others cautiously explore their surroundings, he’s been out learning to drive in the city, buying “English” clothes and getting a tattoo.

By the way, the Amish refer to anyone that’s not Amish as English, hence the references. The group is stunned to learn that Jeremiah has a tattoo and has defiled his body. They remind him that he will be shunned from the Amish community for sure for getting inked, but he doesn’t seem to care. He also tries to take Abe to a strip club, despite the fact that Abe is dating Rebecca. Later, he reminds Abe that doing laundry is women’s work and tells him and Kate that he will someday find an “English” girl to do those sorts of chores for him. Needless to say, Jeremiah is a bit clueless about American culture — and even more about American women. However, he thinks he’s more worldly than the others.

Watching the show is fascinating because the group experiences things most Americans do daily and take for granted. Going shopping for a new cell phone and eating junk food isn’t a big deal for most people, but for this group, it’s new and interesting. They get to do something that was once forbidden. They get to step outside the boundaries of their closed culture and experience what it’s like to be an average American.

 It’s hard to believe that such cultures still exist. With the advancement of medicine and technology, it’s hard to imagine that there are still people in this country who live a simple life, free of outside influences, technology and everything else that has made this nation what it is.