Llooks like it’s Amish season again. Of course, as the kohlrabi gets bigger every summer and the cattle ripen on the vine, there comes a time every few years when the television programs are filled with stories of ordinary people wanting to throw off the yoke of late Western capitalism. and trying to find deeper fulfillment by disturbing the nearest peaceful Anabaptist sect and refusing to adapt to its ways. In the past we’ve had Living with the Amish (and various similar titles), How to Get to Heaven With the Hutterites, and affiliate documentaries such as Inside the Bruderhof, all set to show us the error of our overloaded ways. and consumerists.
Welcome, this time, to The Simpler Life (Channel 4). Here, 24 young and middle-aged Britons are whisked away to Devon to live for six months on a 40-acre farm under the rule of Ohioans Edna and Lloyd Miller, with no electricity or gas, no food at all. beyond what they grow themselves – or find in the store cupboard – and without any control over what happens to them in the edit.
The silly and unnecessary gloss that’s put on effort is that it’s a bold science experiment (designed by California psychologist Professor Barry Schwartz) to find out if hateful people who don’t like to work are best in arable farming without electricity or building. a community with two dozen strangers than those who are reasonable human beings and have some semblance of a clue as to what day transplant means. Or not.
Honestly, it’s so absurd you have to laugh. For God’s sake, it’s 2022, we’re 800 years from a pandemic, 72 hours from World War III, and the planet is burning. Just point the cameras at the screen fodder and let us watch them for an hour trying to live without electricity and Nando.
Our first heroes are the double act Jamie (a general receptionist in his twenties) and his friend Jerome (an NHS administrator). Jamie has never left town before and expresses some concerns about the upcoming business, especially the livestock element. “Are you afraid of a chicken?” Jerome asks. Not in the singular, claims Jamie. “But if 10 run towards you, it’s forbidden.”
The first villain is PA Penny, a former footballer. She is taken aback by Lloyd’s introductory speech about the Amish philosophy of thinking and working collectively, and putting the group before the individual. “You have to put yourself first, surely?” she tells the questing camera afterwards. “No, you don’t,” says her youngest daughter Azara. “I agree with them so much,” says her eldest daughter Dilara. Again, we remember that it’s all about editing. But it seems, over time, that Penny gives them a lot of work. She didn’t go five minutes before demanding to go to the shops rather than eat from the store cupboard (“There’s absolutely nothing here!” she moans, in the middle of the shelves rumbling with preserves and jars of preserves), while they wait for the first harvests to arrive, and insists that her children are starving, and generally seems well placed to schmugger anything but make a prannet of itself (those are Amish terms I just made up) for the next six months. We are solemnly informed that on the psychoblimpblomp tests that all participants took before starting the project, Penny scored low on “agreeableness” and optimism, very low on “need to be part of a group” and raised on “the desire for power”. Surprising.
After that, it’s just like any other of these shows you’ve ever seen. “Some of the work is divided by pre-modern gender roles,” says the voiceover, which is a way of saying that any return to simplicity usually depends on women returning home for a tediously repetitive round of washing. hands. and dishes, and cook – without moderation – huge group meals three times a day. Fran, an IT project manager, takes pride in keeping people happy, but notes that she doesn’t know what’s going on on the farm because she never has time to go out. “I am a human, solitary diver,” she says. As this unseen, non-telegenic work goes on, endlessly, almost literally behind every scene, we focus on the good, visibly productive and rewarding lives of men – learning to farm, raising barns and returning home to the delicious meals which appeared as if by magic.
What can you say? It’s fun to watch. We have already seen it all. It tells us nothing new. Nice people, turns out it’s gonna be nice. Shitebags goes shitebag. Some life lessons will be said to have been learned by the end of the six-part series. Maybe Penny will get a better score on her approval test in the end, or maybe they’ll kill her and bury her under the kohlrabi. I can’t say I care anyway. Can you?