Amish TikTok Star Promotes “Wild” Version of Rumspringa

A new cast member on the “reality” show Return to Amish named Johnny Detweiler has been sharing his wild Rumspringa life on TikTok. He has amassed a good-sized following of over 100,000 followers (I expect that will likely double or triple as the show has just started a new season).

I’m not too keen on embedding TikTok videos, but you can check out the channel at his handle @johnnydetweiler4 on that platform if you like. And while I haven’t dug in deeply on his channel, videos showing partying, drinking, and some obscene gestures are easy to find.

In fairness, that’s not entirely what the channel is about – there are a good number of videos showing family and innocent scenes of Amish life. But the edgier videos are the ones that get attention. And so this will likely get a good bit of traction as these things tend to do.

In fact, the story of Johnny’s channel has already been picked up on large media like Yahoo News and UK tabloids The Daily Mail and The Sun (I’ve noticed Amish topics tend to get a good amount of attention across the pond).

So there are some questions to consider. The more obvious first: Is Johnny’s depiction of Amish teen life “accurate”? For some, sure. Some Amish youth do have wild Rumspringa years, like that depicted on his channel. A lot don’t though. And Amish parents aren’t really promoting this type of thing (though some parents, self-aware of their own wilder pasts, certainly do implicitly permit or condone it).

The nuance is often not included in media coverage, and almost never by the producers of the content itself. So certainly this will reinforce the “wild Rumspringa” version that some think applies to all Amish. This is what sells, of course, so it’s not surprising.

At the same time I’m going to give credit to Yahoo News, who are more careful to note the other side here (full disclosure: looks like they are citing from my own article here on Rumspringa).

Via Yahoo News

The thing is that the more attention- and click-getting thing always has the upper hand on the more complicated and nuanced explanation. So on net, this will go to promoting the “wild Rumspringa” version of Amish adolescence. Just as media like the Devil’s Playground film in the early 2000s or Breaking Amish in the 2010s did in their respective eras.

Who does this hurt?

Another question: does this do harm? And if so, to whom? Some Amish will find this offensive (though likely many more will simply ignore or be unaware of such depictions). And some non-Amish will find shows like Return to Amish or Johnny Detweiler’s TikTok channel offensive, on behalf of the Amish. But as far as actual damage done to “the Amish” as a whole, I don’t think that it moves the needle much, if at all.

The fact is there are always going to be misconceptions about the Amish held by a significant chunk of the population. Academic books or sites like the one you’re reading right now may attempt to present a more accurate view, but are ultimately a drop in the bucket compared to popular culture and social media. And the more edgy and clickable storylines will always have a built-in advantage in the type of media world we live in today.

That doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile to try to put out more accurate or “balanced” info on the Amish. It’s just that bad or distorted info will always be out there (like it is on many different topics). Or, especially in today’s environment, one person’s individual experience, amplified via social media or other channels, will be assumed to also represent other members of that group.

But it’s not the end of the world.

The greater potential damage is probably to the actual participants in Amish reality programs and channels like Johnny Detweiler’s, and those in their immediate circle (including their Amish families, who probably bear varying degrees of shame on behalf of their relatives).

And also for the participants themselves, some of whom might eventually choose Amish adult lives, and look back on their adolescent actions with some measure of regret. But in that, they wouldn’t exactly be unique either.

What do you think?

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    1. Central Virginian

      Tenuous Relationship to Anything Amish

      I guess TikTok vids of a young person’s partying have an added “hook” if he was raised in the Amish culture, but beyond that it doesn’t seem any more interesting than TikTok videos of any other adolescent partying.

      1. Yes I think that hook is the entire attraction. Nothing new under the sun

    2. Thanks to Amish America

      Hello Erik,
      Yes, the edgy stuff gets the headlines and that means immediate followers. But, for me, I’ll take your balanced reporting any day of the week, including Sunday.
      As to harm, if this was a documentary just following Amish in their everyday lives, that would be one thing, but I’ll bet–even though I don’t know–the producers of the show will be encouraging risky behaviors in their scripts.
      I would ask this question: Are the producers more concerned with ratings and profit or with protecting the immature youth who have probably had too much beer to drink?
      As a puppeteer pulls strings, I see this as money and power exploiting the naive and less powerful, but the producers are doing what producers do. They’re entertaining a thirsty audience.
      We’re all losers if we allow ourselves to believe that all people from any single group should be judged by a few.
      Thanks again, Erik.

      1. Belated THANKS back atcha Jim. One thing I found interesting on Johnny’s channel was a shot of the cameraman filming the show, sort of a behind-the-scenes. In answer to your question I would say they are definitely way more into the profit and ratings glory than any concerns for the individuals. On the other hand the participants are all adults. Your last note strikes a chord especially with some comments I’ve been seeing lately, stay tuned may be a post or video on that 🙂

    3. Joseph Frey

      Disrespectful and...

      As an outsider looking in you might think this is an actual occurring event(s), but this series has been debunked numerous times as most of the “actors” are non-Amish or have left the Church many, many years prior to filming. So.. to make the claims that are portrayed in this “reality” show should be viewed as highly sceptical or for finicial gain only. “Belieth in Me” say the Lord!

      1. Yes I wonder how often “reality” TV has ever not relied on some sort of scripting. I guess certain shows might do better at it than others, but when you rely on some sort of dramatic tension, you can add the characters that are likely to provide it but they still probably need some prodding/direction to produce the desired drama.

        I believe the mother figure on the show is not appearing this season, in part it sounds like she was dissatisfied with being lied to by the show.

    4. Ruben Chupp

      Tik Tok and Amish Reality TV

      Stick a camera in someones face, including an Amish person (like “Johnny,” if he’s really who he says he is) and “reality” takes a hike.

    5. Dan Holsinger

      Not worth looking at!

      I’ve seen some of Johnny Detweiler’s videos! They are not worth looking at!

      1. Central Virginian

        Good to Know

        Thanks for corroborating my decision not to watch any of them,

    6. Really?

      How does “videos showing partying, drinking, and some obscene gestures are easy to find” honor God?
      Do youth doing Rumspringa think that is what English all do? It might be what the media feeds us as “normal” but that is a lie. Don’t believe the lie that gets hundreds of thousands of followers. Followers are not your friends, they are wolves in sheep’s clothing.