Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/1/2017 (971 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
For two Mennonite historians, the new CBC drama about a drug-running Mennonite colony is anything but Pure.
For those unfamiliar with the show, Pure is the fictitious story of Noah Funk, a newly-elected Mennonite pastor who wants to rid his community of drug traffickers led by "Menno mob" leader Eli Voss.
Filmed in Nova Scotia, the show is loosely based on the real-life experiences of a few Old Colony Mennonites who were caught smuggling drugs from Mexico to Canada.
As a viewer, Royden Loewen, chair in Mennonite studies at the University of Winnipeg, says he was "mildly entertained" by the show.
But "as a Canadian who loves this culturally diverse country I was troubled and dismayed," he adds.
Loewen, who has written extensively about the Old Order ‘horse-and-buggy’ Mennonites of southern Ontario and the Low German Mennonite migrants from Mexico, says Pure is "based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the horse-and-buggy community in southern Ontario, and creates an error-ridden depiction of a vulnerable and highly visible religious minority group."
To him, the show "seems sloppily researched and produces a caricature of what it purports to be a real community."
Among the things the show gets wrong, he says, are the accent, the names, the theology, the buggies they use, the church architecture, "and the very notion of the existence of a ‘colony.’"
The show also "conflates a story" about a drug-smuggling ring within a Low German-speaking Old Colony Mexican Mennonite immigrant community with the Old Order Mennonites of Ontario, he says.
Sam Steiner, former librarian and archivist at Conrad Grebel College in Waterloo, Ont., feels the same way.
Like Loewen, he says the actors get the accent wrong. (Which isn’t surprising, since Ryan Robbins, who plays Noah Funk in the show, said one of the ways he picked the accent he uses in the show was by listening to what he called "Anabaptist" women, who were "presumably" Mennonites, in a market in Nova Scotia.)
Steiner also notes no Low German Mennonites in Canada use horses and buggies, nor do they wear straw hats—that’s what the Amish wear.
There are other problems, he says, such as the way the fictitious colony members choose their preacher; the role of women in worship services; and even the title of the preacher himself. It is always "minister," not "pastor"—the title used in the show — Steiner says.
Both feel the CBC has let down Mennonites in Canada, and Canadians in general, by making the show.
"It would seem that CBC, for reasons of entertainment, has contravened its mandate to bring understanding and respect to vulnerable groups within the Canadian multicultural mosaic," says Loewen.
The broadcaster, he adds, is failing in its "responsibility to enhance respect and understanding among Canada’s diverse ethnic and religious groups."
Canadians, he says, "expect much more from our national publicly owned media."
Steiner agrees. He wishes the CBC had not "implicated part of the Mennonite community they knew had nothing to do with the ‘true story’ they based it on. I suspect it was deliberate, not sloppy research."
While thinking about Pure, I was reminded of another CBC show about a religious group: Little Mosque on the Prairie.
That show, about Muslims living in the fictional town of Mercy, Sask., ran from 2007-12.
As with Pure, it also got things wrong. But the spirit of the show was light and generous, and a review of comments on the web by Canadian Muslims shows people in that community generally felt positive about how it depicted them.
As one Muslim reviewer put it: "It was a proud moment for me to see a show about Muslims air on national television… at a time when Muslim youth were increasingly insecure about their identities, a show like Little Mosque helped boost self-esteem and self-worth for many."
Post 9/11, when "any normative depiction of Muslims in media was deemed to be too controversial, the CBC made the bold move of creating a whole show about Muslims" — something, he added, that the CBC should be recognized for.
Somehow, I doubt many Canadian Mennonites today would feel the same way about Pure.
John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.
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