Viewing different religions up close and personal seems to be a trend for TLC.
The cable network did it with "Shalom in the Home" in 2006, then with "Sister Wives" in 2010 and "All-American Muslim" in 2011. Now, it's the Amish being featured.
But ever since "Breaking Amish" debuted on Sept. 9, TLC's representation of the Amish and Mennonite culture and the subjects of the show have been under scrutiny.
Dan Kaplan with the New York Daily News reported that a source close to the TLC hit show said during the filming it became clear that one cast member, and possibly two, had previously misrepresented themselves to the studio.
Immediately after the first episode aired, Facebook, MySpace and other social networking sites began to light up with photos and comments about several of the cast members. A Facebook group titled Breaking Amish the Truth was formed two days after the first episode aired and states: "'The Truth' was started to peacefully and respectfully document misleading information in TLC's 'Breaking Amish' and pass on accurate portrayals of Amish and Mennonites."
"Breaking Amish" follows five young Amish and Mennonite people — Abe, 22; Jeremiah, 32; Kate, 21; Rebecca, 20; and Sabrina, 25 — on their journey to New York City. TLC describes the show on its website as "a never-before-seen look" into the lives of men and women who leave their religious community as they "trade horse and buggy with taxi cabs." The group is sent to New York City so viewers may watch as they drive cars and wear jeans for supposedly the first time.
Yet which rumors are actually true has yet to be determined. Among the allegations are that Abe and Rebecca — who just barely met on the show — have a child together in real life. Sabrina has been accused of modeling clothing that would not be appropriate for the Mennonite community. According to the Huffington Post and "The Truth" Facebook page, Kate, who was described on the show as having never taken a picture of herself, has sent in several photos to modeling websites.
Jeremiah, the self-proclaimed Amish rebel, was also recently accused by Naomi Stutzman, his alleged ex-wife, of being a husband and father of three kids.
TLC released a response to the accusations: "There is a lot of information floating around about the group featured on 'Breaking Amish,'" the network statement read. "Much of it is not true, but some of it is — and is addressed in upcoming episodes."
Hanna Pylvanien of the Wall Street Journal questioned whether the show could ever be considered a truthful look into the lives of these religions.
"But the grand irony here is that the Amish and Mennonite communities that the 'cast' has left behind don't want to be on camera," Pylvanien said. "And thus, even from the outset, the show omits the possibility of ever truly entering these religious lives."
Peter McKnight of the Vancouver Sun pointed out the obvious regarding the new reality show.
"... One wonders exactly what has people so upset," McKnight said. "After all, we all know — and have known for decades — that 'reality' shows aren’t what they seem. Contrived situations, creative editing and even scripted scenes all conspire to make reality television something of an oxymoron — heavy on television, but light on reality."
Pylvanien gave some advice regarding "Breaking Amish."
"Instead of cheering uncritically for their independence, take a moment to mourn with them what they are losing — and how long it may be until the freedom feels like a gain."
Sarah Sanders Petersen is an intern for Deseret News where she writes for Mormon Times and other feature articles. She is a Communications major and editing minor.
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