I think I could pitch a great reality show to Discovery Channel.
I'd claim to unveil the secret, sordid world of Christian critics, with cameras dogging every step the Plugged In staff took. The tagline might read, "By day, they review entertainment. By night, they enforce it." It wouldn't make any sense, but would that matter? One episode might document how we crashed Kanye West and Kim Kardashian's latest Hollywood party, raining down righteous anger on the unconscionably immoral mayhem we found there. Then we'd all slam back a few martinis.
It'd be complete hogwash of course—a fractious fiction from beginning to end. But even so, it might be more truthful than Amish Mafia.
Discovery admits that the Amish community denies the existence of an embedded mafia, of course. And it tells us that some of what shows up onscreen are reenactments based on "the legend of the Amish Mafia." Not the best start for a reality show.
Of course, most Amish couldn't care a buggy-driven whit about reality TV. Their entire culture sort of works against crass self-promotion, and it's that reluctance to draw attention to themselves that, presumably, has kept Amish leaders from debunking this travesty.
But don't tell that to Lebanon Levi, the supposed godfather of this Lancaster, Penn., outfit, ostensibly tasked with keeping peace and harmony (through superior firepower) within the tight-knit Amish community. Levi is, according to Discovery's website, "above the law and occupies the role of police, judge and jury," and is tasked with keeping "outside forces from infiltrating the Amish community." (Excepting reality television film crews, we're to believe.)
Levi's joined by a tight cadre of gun-toting assistants: Alvin, a quiet-but-tough dude who stands guard outside Levi's barn-based office; John, a double-dealing youth who's dad was the community's previous enforcer; and Jolin, a Mennonite who, by virtue of his Mennoniteness, can get tattoos and drive a truck. Esther is John's brother, Levi's love interest and Jolin's secret squeeze. (Jolin and Esther often discuss with the television crew how awful it'd be for Levi to find out about their little relationship.)
Though we're frequently told how religious the Amish are, that doesn't stop the main players in Amish Mafia from drinking, fighting, swearing and threatening folks. It's implied that Jolin and Esther have sex. And John and other mafia members trail and photograph an Amish leader cavorting with a prostitute. Unbelievably, it gets worse, with the Discovery editing team hoping you'll believe that Levi and his crew are actually offing other Amish and burying them behind the barn. "The last person who betrayed Levi, we don't know what happened to him," says John with a knowing look.
Could Levi, or somebody like him, actually have some connection with the Amish community? "Is there any population in which you can't find a few badly behaving, exploitable or shamelessly colorful individuals on which to base a trashy television show?" asks David George at salon.com. "Obviously you can find such people in any community."
But most experts believe that Amish Mafia is almost complete fabrication. "My sense is this Amish mafia is about as real as the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company in The Office," Professor Donald Weaver-Zercher told inquisitr.com. And, indeed, when you're watching, the thing feels about as credible as a Nigerian email scam.
Real or not, though, insert another religious group—Mormon, Muslim, Hindu—in the place of Amish and try to guess how many minutes would elapse before Discovery was deluged with complaints. It's precisely because the Amish aren't the sort of folks to publicly cry foul that Discovery thinks it has license to both mock their oh-so-charming innocence while sneering at their hypocrisy. The fact that the network tries to link the necessity of Levi's group to the horrific killings at an Amish school in 2006 (when a gunman killed five Amish girls and injured five others) brings an even creepier element into play.
"The Amish did not want to respond, as Discovery intimates, by picking up arms against the oppressors, or in revenge," writes Michael Shank, a professor who grew up in the Amish-Mennonite town of Kidron, Ohio, for The Washington Post. "That philosophy is diametrically opposed to the strong and prevailing Amish Mennonite belief in nonviolence. In fact, at the time of the school shooting the national media were confounded at how nonviolently the Amish victims' families responded."
You won't see Prof. Shank on Amish Mafia, of course. Maybe that's because what he's saying is actually true.
"Devil Comes Calling"
Merlin, an Amish "godfather" from Ohio, saunters into town, ostensibly in the hopes of "freeing" Lancaster County from Levi's control (and bringing it under his). He proceeds to enter a "pimped out" buggy contest, wowing the faithful with his flat-screen TV, stereo speakers and cross-shaped bling. He promotes his buggy through a series of profane rants as he sprays champagne.
John orchestrates a barn fight (money is made through liquor sales and betting pools) in which Jolin participates. After being hit repeatedly, he "chokes out" his opponent. We see other fights, all featuring MMA-style violence. Later, Jolin ushers Esther into his room. "If we're really going to do this, we're going to have to turn off our mics," he says as they shut the door.
"Interviewees" imply that the Amish are poorly educated and women are forced to be submissive. Insinuations (verbal and visual) are made about the violent capabilities of the Amish mafia. We hear about a former Amish who was caught with a car full of drugs. Esther says Levi was "p‑‑‑ed off because [the guy] didn't give him a cut of it." We hear that Merlin spent time in jail for selling marijuana, and he says he had to be smart to avoid being someone's "b‑‑ch." About 15 obscenities (either s-words or f-words) are partially censored. We hear "a‑‑" a half-dozen times, along with "b‑‑tard," "h‑‑‑," colloquialisms for the f-word and misuses of God's name.