Is anyone watching the NatGeo show American Colony: The Hutterites? I gave it a shot, primarily because people often ask me about it, and wow . . . it’s really bad. Like, really, really bad. It’s poorly scripted (or, I should say, the script is poorly delivered), and the tension, thus far, has primarily centered around 1) killing a pig large enough to satiate the biologically related religious community, and 2) one young woman’s desire to date a ‘bad’ guy whose rebellion, it seems, centers around his love for the music of such ‘transgressive’ acts like Taylor Swift, Coldplay, and Atreyu.
Triple ugh. I mean, how was Atreyu ever on Victory Records? It’s baffling. That label once had standards.
My only real knowledge of the Hutterites stems from a number of Anabaptist history books. I had one graduate seminar in which we spent a few weeks talking about them. That’s about it. I did have a friend visit, with his Mennonite church group, a colony some years ago in which the Hutterites were actively recruiting their young Mennonite girls . . . because, you know, when your only means of growth is biological, well, that gene pool is going to get pretty small pretty quick. And the next thing you know, you have a group of young kids who actually enjoy the music of people like Taylor Swift and Coldplay. (I had to look them up. Seriously. I examined a Top 100 Billboard to see what ‘the kids’ are listening to these days and, apparently, natural selection is no longer at work.)
It’s unfortunate that many of the best parts of the show are some of its deleted scenes. It’s here where they really discuss what it means to be a Hutterite, why they gather the way they do, their conversations on God and the common good, and what, if anything, the non-Hutterite might learn from them.
And I guess that’s my real gripe with the show (as well as the series Out Of Order, which follows a few shunned Amish dissidents). Rather than focusing on how their way of life is an intriguing alternative to that which surrounds them, they primarily want to focus on how badly some of the youth just want to be like everyone else. This carries the implication that ‘everyone else’ really is the default mode and that only by harsh discipline can anyone resist it.
Eh, perhaps that latter part is true.
Regardless, half way through the second episode I turned it off and started re-reading Palahniuk’s Survivor (his best book, I contend–I use it in my Introduction to Religious Studies course, positioned between the study of Jonestown, The Devil’s Playground, and the average American’s fetish for shopping, war, and sports–in that approximate order).
Survivor is a nice reminder, at least for me, that no group could ever out-conform the predominant pop cult(ure) of the US. I think the very nature of these TV shows seek to prove that resistance, if not futile, comes at a very strong price. That price being any alternative manner of existence that refuses to concede the end-all ultimate good of the modern nation-state/market politic must be portrayed as ridiculous, deviant, harsh, and, ultimately, only held together via prejudiced ignorance of ‘slavish’ elders. After all, any reasonable human being would never choose to not be plugged into the omnipresent ‘network’ 24/7 trying to figure out what jeans, shoes and make-up to wear, what band is currently ‘in’, and what television shows to watch in order to maintain their precariously fashionable friendships. Who wouldn’t desire such a subtle form of tyranny?
Okay, in an effort to cleanse me of the 48 seconds I spent listening to Coldplay, I’m off to listen to Fifteen and Hot Water Music. Pray for my cleansing from Vida La Vida. That was horrible. Really horrible.
About the Author
Tripp York teaches religious studies at Virginia Wesleyan College in Norfolk, Virginia. He is the author of more than half a dozen books including, Third Way Allegiance, The Purple Crown, and Living on Hope While Living in Babylon. He is the co-editor of the forthcoming three-volume collection called the Peaceable Kingdom Series. An actor and a lighting designer, Tripp also surfs and spends his weekends shoveling elephant and giraffe poop.