Monday, November 8, 2010

Documentary review: 'Devil's Playground'

Over the weekend I had the chance to watch “Devil’s Playground,” a 2002 documentary on the Old Order Amish community and the first to provide an in-depth look at life in this endlessly fascinating subculture. It’s available at the Richmond Memorial Library in the documentary section, catalog #3147.

Director Lucy Walker follows four teens during their Rumspringa, which is basically a rite-of-passage in Amish culture.

At the age of 16, Amish youth are released from the bonds of the Amish community and allowed to experience life among the “English” (which is what they call mainstream society). After spending time in the outside world, they decide if they want to take their vows to join the Amish Church, thereby officially becoming adults in the Amish community, or break their ties with the Amish community and enjoy the benefits of “the world,” like cars, electricity, etc.

As you might be able to tell by looking at the DVD cover, not all of what they discover outside of the shelter of Amish culture is good or healthy.

Think about this for a second: These young people grow up in a setting with very strict rules, staunch religiosity and virtually – if not absolutely – no use for any modern conveniences of any kind. Now, at an age at which their hormones are in an uproar, they are exposed all at once to the temptations and pleasures of parties, drinking, cigarettes and drugs. Now if this isn’t a recipe for disaster, I don’t know what is.

According to the film, over 90% of Amish teens return to their home communities and join the Amish Church – and, in fact, as of 2002 the Amish community had the highest retention rate since the order was founded (I don’t know how much that has changed since then, if at all). Some of these teens, on the other hand, choose to make lives for themselves within mainstream society. And then there are those of them who, unfortunately, get into some harmful stuff. If you watch this movie, you will see Amish teens smoking a lot, getting drunk, using drugs and, in one case, getting into the drug-dealing game.

I might not mention this if not for the fact that we have some Amish/Mennonite communities in this area – there are none in Genesee County, but I know that Orleans and Wyoming are home to such communities.The work of GCASA’s Prevention Resource Center, which helps to foster other community coalitions in the Western New York area, was also a factor in my decision to post this review on GCASA Cares.

One of the things the PRC folks are always trying to keep in mind is that different communities have different needs and that even if they are experiencing problems similar to those in our community, they may have their own unique risk and protective factors that require attention.

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