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Fooling with the Amish

Amish Mafia, Entertaining Fakery, and the Evolution of Reality TV

Dirk Eitzen

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Using Amish Mafia as a window into the interplay between the real and the imagined, this book dissects the peculiar appeals and potential dangers of deception in reality TV and popular entertainment.

When Amish Mafia was released in 2012, viewers were fascinated by the stories of this secret group of Amish and Mennonite enforcers who used threats, extortion, and violence to keep members of the Amish community in line—and to line their own pockets. While some of the stories were based loosely on actual events, the group itself was a complete fabrication. Its members were played by ex-Amish and…

Using Amish Mafia as a window into the interplay between the real and the imagined, this book dissects the peculiar appeals and potential dangers of deception in reality TV and popular entertainment.

When Amish Mafia was released in 2012, viewers were fascinated by the stories of this secret group of Amish and Mennonite enforcers who used threats, extortion, and violence to keep members of the Amish community in line—and to line their own pockets. While some of the stories were based loosely on actual events, the group itself was a complete fabrication. Its members were played by ex-Amish and ex-Mennonite young adults acting out scenarios concocted by the show's producers. What is most extraordinary about Amish Mafia is that, even though it was fictional, it was cleverly constructed to appear real. Discovery Channel, which aired it, assiduously maintained that it was real; whole episodes were devoted to proving that it was real; and many viewers (including smart reality TV fans) were fooled into believing it was real.

In Fooling with the Amish, Dirk Eitzen examines the fakery in Amish Mafia and how actual viewers of the show responded to it to discover answers to two questions that have long puzzled media scholars: What is it about the so-called reality of reality shows that appeals to and gratifies viewers? How and why are people taken in by falsehoods in the media? Eitzen's ultimate answer to these questions is that, in taking liberties with facts, Amish Mafia works very much like gossip. This helps to explain the workings not just of this and other reality TV shows but also of other forms of media fakery, including fake news.

The book winds through numerous fascinating case studies of media fakery, from P. T. Barnum's famous "humbugs" of the nineteenth century to recent TV news scandals. It examines the social and emotional appeals of other forms of entertaining fakery, including professional wrestling and supermarket tabloids. It explains how and why conventions of contrivance evolved in reality TV as well as the ethics of media fakery. And, for readers interested in the Amish, it tells how the ex-Amish "stars" of Amish Mafia got involved in the show and the impact that involvement had on their lives.

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Fooling with the Amish

Dirk Eitzen

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Reviews

Showcasing the author's command of documentary analysis and construction, Fooling with the Amish breaks ground with authority. Eitzen draws deeply from personal interviews, along with a wide-ranging set of academic sources on early cinema, reality TV, media theory, and the Amish.

The idea of an Amish mafia may be silly, but Dirk Eitzen takes their fabricated 'reality' seriously. In doing so he helps shed light on one of the defining issues of our time: the tenuous place of honesty in a post-truth age. If you're looking for a book about religion and popular culture that's funny and smart—and also quite disturbing—this is it.

Eitzen brilliantly dissects the thicket of lies entangled in Amish Mafia. But before you cheer, beware. He also reveals why we tolerate fakery just for the sake of a good story. In a time when truth-shredding is common, the sweeping ramifications of this superb book touch politics, television, news, civil discourse, personal ethics, and of course fakery in reality TV. Clear. Creative. Compelling.

Fooling with the Amish insightfully examines the psychological appeal of reality television and the assumptions and techniques that ground the genre. Dirk Eitzen uses the reality television show Amish Mafia as an extended example in exploring these issues. The fact that Eitzen knows the real Amish very well makes the book doubly interesting.

About

Book Details

Release Date
Publication Date
Status
Preorder
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
248
ISBN
9781421444185
Illustration Description
15 b&w photos, 5 b&w illus.
Table of Contents

Prologue
1. Enquiring Minds Want to Know
2. The Roots of Reality Entertainment
3. A Chronicle of Contrivance
4. The Pleasure in Being Deceived (and Its Limits)
5. Gossip and Lies
6. Rights and Wrongs
Epilogu

Prologue
1. Enquiring Minds Want to Know
2. The Roots of Reality Entertainment
3. A Chronicle of Contrivance
4. The Pleasure in Being Deceived (and Its Limits)
5. Gossip and Lies
6. Rights and Wrongs
Epilogue
Acknowledgments
Notes
References
Index

Author Bio
Dirk Eitzen
Featured Contributor

Dirk Eitzen, PhD

Dirk Eitzen (LITITZ, PA) is a professor of film and media at Franklin & Marshall College. He lives in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where much of Amish Mafia was shot.