The American Experience: The Amish

As modern life keeps accelerating, with everything so fast-paced and high-tech, the Amish quietly adhere to centuries-old traditions, leaving the rest of us wondering whether to admire or pity them.

The Amish, a fascinating and gorgeously photographed two-hour episode of PBS' American Experience that's as much anthropology as history lesson, often feels more like a nature documentary. Because the subjects refuse to talk on camera, believing it violates the Second Commandment, we watch from afar as these devout people go about their daily routine and timeless devotions in insular, unspoiled rural habitats. They do, however, open up in voice-over interviews about their strongly held values and rigidly enforced rules.

"The Amish shape themselves by rejecting us," says one of several academic expert observers, as we hear firsthand accounts of the discipline and self-­­denial, rooted in the Anabaptist faith, that have set them apart from regular society since the Industrial Revolution.

No electricity. No telephones (but they are allowed to use public phones). No cameras. And no TV. "If it's bad for the family, we will not have it," declares one of the unseen Amish.

Spanning a year in the life of communities in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana, The Amish is intimate and personal, and always respectful. But it's never blindly sympathetic, as we hear from several who question the way things have always been and leave the repressive restrictions behind. "The Amish life is not about saying no, it's about going along," says a woman who left in her twenties.

There is a comforting sense of the eternal in The Amish, but also the voyeuristic lure of the exotic.

The Amish airs Tuesday on PBS (check local listings).

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