Thursday, August 9, 2012

National Geo-graphic

If reality television is, at best unreality, then one program I've recently seen creates a whole new category. It's a distorted view of reality taken to new, angelic heights. (pun intended) American Colony: Meet the Hutterites, presented by the National Geographic Channel must be seen to be believed. It has the look and feel of the National Geographic we all know and love. But that's where any resemblance departs. The attempt here is to showcase the daily life of a Hutterite colony in northern Montana. Like Mennonites and the Amish, the Hutterites have long held a fascination for the rest of us. They live in colonies that manage to stay true to their Protestant/Calvinistic European heritages. They work the land, revere the land, live off the land, and die on the land. They eschew much of what we cal modern technology...or at least they are supposed to. In the voyeuristic world of reality TV there is very little evidence of the Hutterites eschewing anything. The kids drive fast, want I-Pods, violate the dress codes, and swear a blue streak. But then this is a TV show. It's all very entertaining for a few minutes before the realization hits. These programs are not only contrived, they are probably scripted. Some of the episodes resemble the recycled plot lines from Leave It To Beaver or The Andy Griffith Show. The "acting" is beyond terrible; it's hilarious. "Hey," one of the teenage boys says, "I got an idea. What if we..." and then an evil plot is hatched to tattle on someone, subvert the beef jerky competition, or go deer hunting when they should be doing something else. The Hutterite Dutch/German dialect is very much in evidence. While I'm equally fascinated by this look at the colony life, I can't help thinking this is a real life version of The Katzenjammer Kids. I just dated myself, but as a child I'd read the Sunday funnies out loud to myself and damned if these Hutterites don't sound and act the same. Somewhere out there a program or documentary exists with accurate or realistic images, or at least details of a difficult life without contrived plot lines for a Hutterite colony. This isn't that program, but, if we're lucky, it might give rise to one. The entire experience of relying on National Geographic to give us the quality and depth we've come to expect begs a few crucial questions. There are issues of education, technology, climate change, and deteriorating socio-economic conditions in this society that impact everyone. Given the current state of geographic and economic affairs; given the current moral atrophy, materialistic obsession and lack of political will, we all might benefit from learning how the colony really survives.

1 comment:

Cameron McPherson Smith said...

Hi from sunny Bavaria, Bruce! Thought I would check in. You're right, the program is likely scripted. That is what makes 'reality tv' so cynical...it's fiction posing as reality. At least with fiction, I know I'm being told a tale. Reality TV producers minds are so squished that they think that hyping things up is the only way to make something watchable. Sad that it has infected now Nat Geo. See you in a couple of weeks!
Cheers
Cameron