Dear Internet Diary,
I'm watching a documentary about "rumspringe," the time in an Amish kid's life (after 16) when he or she can decide whether to join the church and "become Amish." The Amish don't believe in baptising children, and that they should decide for themselves when they reach the age of majority.
But the point of the movie, to me, is that there is still not a real choice, not really. These kids are not educated--maybe Amish kids in the single digits have been allowed to go to a real school. Their "schools" go until eighth grade, taught by 13 year-olds like junior camp counselors. They don't learn about sex. They don't learn about biology or science. These kids start dressing "english," turn on MTV and watch movies for the first time, and immediately immitate what they see the kids on tv doing. They furiously smoke and drink, and have adult-sanctioned parties out in the fields, drinking until they pass out, smoking pot, snorting (and dealing) crank. They have no idea what they're doing, and the tv is their crash-course. They are given sanction to have "bed-courtship," where the girl can spend the night in the boy's bed.
Is it surprising that they have a bad teen pregnancy problem?
This is pretty sly of their tradition, to keep these kids coming back at a 90% rate. The girls, who are taught to care what their moms and dads think, join the church, and are the main pressure to get the boys back in. It works. What works better is pre-marital pregnancy, all tacitly encouraged by this grand tradition.
What do these kids have to look forward to when they get back in? Jobs in factories. That's what these kids on their sprees are doing for spending money. What do you do on an eighth grade education?
What kind of choice do these kids have, really? No support from parents to leave. No education. No knowledge about the world. The world, the religion teaches, is evil. That's why they want to be set apart from it.
The commentary was interesting. The directors were so conflicted. They actually make me want to scream. On the one hand, they understand that this system is awful, and, as the director notes, "maybe shouldn't be allowed." But then they become wistful about it. They say "they have everything set up, it's so peaceful and simple, they know they're going to heaven." They start complaining about life with cell phones, high-speed internet connections, and video games. It was better before, they imply.
What crap! I wish I could come across a few more intelligent, creative and productive people out there who could just show a little appreciation for the choices they are blessed to have. Why do we have cell phones, and high-speed internet connection? Because it's better. It saves work. It makes us happy. If we didn't want those things, are we trapped in a world that will shun us if we choose not to use those things? Do we face pressure from our families if we choose to limit our access to the internet? That seems rare. How about, instead of complaining about all the great choices we have, all the ways we can see into worlds we've never known, hear music from cultures we couldn't have dreamed about 30 years ago, learn about things we couldn't have inmagined, we try to be thankful for it?
I suppose it's only natural that we sometimes long for lack of freedom, because it represents no having to be responsible for ourselves anymore. In this culture, there is no more "self." There is community. "Individual" is a dirty word. The parents entice their children back home with the promise that everything will be easy for them. All their needs will be met. All their choices will be made for them.
To counteract the feelings brought up by this film, I should watch Pleasantville. That film demonstrates the beauty and gives appreciation for the world as it is, with all its scary, dirty, and dangerous freedom. That and Wings of Desire. I wonder how the kids in Devil's Playground would react to those films, and if they could relate to them? Not bloody likely.
Thanks for listening, diary.