There are Mennonites out there who equate the television set with abomination and vow to have nothing to do with it. These are mostly, I understand, either Holdeman Mennonites, Amish or young parents. When I was in my 20s, I too declared TV a waste of time and my spouse and I renounced the boob tube and happily lived without it until my in-laws decided to gift us one to save their granddaughter from that fate worse than death — a childhood devoid of a purple dinosaur named Barney and the eerie shenanigans of teletubbies.
But, living in the age of netflix and youtube, such renunciations have become meaningless. Cause you know we’re not giving up the internet.
And anyway, we live in what has been called the second golden age of television. Gone are the days of the endless reruns of Gilligan’s Island and I Dream of Jeannie. We now watch thought-provoking short-form cinematic art that serves as a cultural touchstone and invites dialogue with our neighbours, co-workers and social media comrades. We debate points of plot, character and themes. We have transformed TV from an object that epitomized isolation and passivity to the very essence of engagement. TV has become the friend of community.
But there’s a problem.
For those of us who were raised Mennonite, TV can be a bit confusing. Back in the day, a show was called Hymn Sing and you knew what to expect. Nowadays, we scan across the offerings on netflix and our eyes may light up at the title only to darken again when we see the premise and plot summary.
It would be different if we wrote the shows.*
Here are a few of the scenarios you could expect had Mennonites been handed the show titles and asked to write the pilot:
Luther: historical drama.
The story of how Martin Luther and the other Protestant reformers betrayed the the true faith of Anabaptism
The Bachelor: situation comedy
A young man goes to Bible College and meets his mate over earnest theological discussion. Hilarity ensues.
The Weakest Link: talk show
Prominent members of the community debate the merits of different varieties of Mennonite farmers’ sausage
True Blood: game show
Strangers meet and determine how and when their bloodlines meet (aka The Mennonite Game)
The Walking Dead: documentary series
Each episode follows the life and times of an individual who has been shunned from their congregation
House of Cards: sports
Alternating Rook and Dutch Blitz tournaments (spinoff euchre show in production)
Mad Men: reality
Episodes follow the day to day disputes of Church leaders in the midst of a schism
Orange is the New Black: auto
Car dealerships react to a loosening of restrictions regarding Conservative Mennonite car ownership
The Sopranos: music
The women’s group takes over Hymn Sing
An urban Church discovers the difficulties of putting on successful potluck lunches
There are others but none of them are any better. In my defense, I never claimed that the shows would be better, more interesting or even remotely entertaining had they been written by Mennonites and/or with a Mennonite sensibility. Just more, well, more Mennonite.
As all of these shows would be guaranteed to put any audience to sleep, I think we need a cocktail with caffeine in it to help us get through the line-up. Since we’d also need to engage in stimulating, community-building conversation after watching these shows, alcohol is again in order; none of these shows would be at all engaging sober.
The TV Mennoseries
- 1 oz hot espresso
- 1/2 oz Frangelico
- 1/2 oz vodka
- 1/2 oz hot steamed milk
Brew espresso. Pour Frangelico and vodka into the bottom of small cup. Pour in hot espresso and milk. Drink in front of the TV.
*There are, of course, Mennonites and people of Mennonite lineage who work in the television industry. I can’t explain why their shows are not seeping with Menno sensibilities and schmauntfat.