"Amish in the City" Press Conference
I am standing here today on behalf of the more than 20,000 Amish constituents I represent, and the tens of thousands more who live throughout the country, to publicly protest CBS and UPN's proposed reality TV series "Amish in the City," and to request that CBS President Leslie Moonves stops this show from going to production.
I am also urging any Amish teenagers approached by CBS's production team to protect their community and refuse to participate in this mockery.
Last week, I joined more than 50 of my colleagues in the House of Representatives and Senate in sending a letter to network executives objecting to the plan to produce an Amish reality TV show.
According to Moonves, the proposed "reality" series "Amish in the City" will be of interest to the public because Amish youth have led "sheltered lives," and Americans will want to see their reactions to a new world they are seeing for the first time. Viewers will watch as Amish teens leave family farms and workshops and "test the waters" of the big city.
But this series is not a documentary on how Amish teenagers struggle with their cultural and religious identity - it's a deliberate attempt to exploit the beliefs and practices of the Amish.
CBS may want us to believe that this is somehow educational, but, as we have learned from other "reality" TV series, big ratings don't come from education. They come from a rush to the bottom of what is considered socially acceptable. The more shocking, the more degrading, the more scandalous and outrageous the material, the bigger the hit.
While CBS claims that "Amish in the City" is not intended to portray the Amish teens as a "side show" act, the very premise of the series - taking five Amish teens, placing them in a big city with "English" peers, and taping their reactions to "modern" conveniences and situations - belies this argument.
Also, I find it incredibly hard to believe that CBS would single out young people from another minority group, say Hassidic Jews or Native Americans who had grown up on a reservation, and place them in the big city for America to gawk and laugh at.
To what exactly is CBS going to expose these Amish teens? The Amish are a people who have consciously chosen to live their lives according to the dictates of their faith and apart from the larger world. But, as most Amish communities are in close proximity to "English" communities, Amish teens have already been exposed to electricity, cars, cell phones, and other modern conveniences. Les Moonves is going to have to come up with something a bit more tempting to get a reaction worth putting on TV.
Make no mistake - the very nature of this program is offensive and exploitative. There is no way around the fact that this series would harm the Amish, and inaccurately portray their beliefs and customs.
This "social experiment," as Mr. Moonves calls it, can only serve to take advantage of vulnerable young people at a time when they are making decisions about their faith that will affect the rest of their lives. This, on the heels of CBS's scandalous Super Bowl half-time show simply confirms that CBS's credibility is sorely lacking, as is its judgment.
Frankly, CBS doesn't have a lot of credibility these days. This network has repeatedly exercised very poor judgment. Mr. Moonves has apparently decided not to air the so-called "Beverly Hillbillies" reality show, which would have demeaned rural southern Americans.
Unless CBS wants a permanent reputation as the network of sleaze and disrespect, I suggest they cancel this program too before it ever starts.
No reassurance that network executives can offer will convince me that this series is anything but exploitation for profit. Mr. Moonves, do not put our Amish youth in a cage to be laughed at like animals at the zoo.
Mr. Moonves, this show should never go to production.