Communication, a very important aspect of our daily life is only possible through a medium. The medium being whatever carries the message i. e. the writing through which we communicate and the air with which we speak through. The plural of medium is media and the word media usually refers to films, TV, radio and newspapers, all responsible for our communication with the world. By questioning and studying the issues the media highlights we learn to criticise, analyse and perform techniques of informing and persuasion.
By analysing the 1985 film, Witness, directed by Peter Weir I am going to comment on how the Amish culture is represented and how he creates this image. Many people regard the Amish as relics of the past who live in austere, inflexible life dedicated to ancient customs. These views are stereotypical of fifty years ago where the Amish were looked upon as a backward sect who resisted progress and education and exploited the labour of their children.
But now attitudes have changed towards the Amish and as they are seen going about their daily life they are often viewed as hardworking, thrifty people who have preserved some of the virtues of early American rural life. The Amish sect was first started back in 1693 by a group of Anabaptists. From Jacob Amman of Switzerland they derived the name Amish (Jacob Amman stood for the epitome of conservation). The highest value for the Amish is eternal life. Like evangelical Protestants, the Amish believe in the supremacy of the bible.
But unlike most Protestants feel that they need to be separate from ‘worldliness’ to gain this eternal life. Worldliness is considered to be the love of money, fashionable dress and education beyond what is needed. (The bible teaches ‘be not conformed with the world’). As the reformation of the church continued the Amish believed that the church and the state should be separate. They believed that there should be no swearing to oaths but that people should follow a peaceful example of Christ in all examples regardless of the consequences.
The consequences for the Amish were torture leading them to flee to America. These strong beliefs have lived on in the Amish community and all generations respect what their ancestors did for them. This explains why they dress the same and do not use any modern day appliances. They have kept to the manner of worship and traditions of centuries past. The book I researched this information from titled, ‘The Amish’ was written by John. A. Hostetler. He is Amish; however from an Amish minority I think, the Old Order Minnonites as he published literature, something traditional Amish people do not do.
The Old Order Minnonites are an Amish community who have not kept so closely to traditions of the past; they manage their own colleges, conduct missionary activity and administer worldwide relief. All the photos contained in the book are of the ‘Mennonites’ which could suggest that the book does not contain information that is correct for all Amish communities. However as Amish people do not publish literature or allow photos this could be a very reliable source of information when compared to ones composed by outsiders of the Amish community.
Also this book has been revised three times since its first publication in 1952 which suggests that the information is correct and up to date. Before even beginning to think about filming director’s have a huge responsibility to make sure that the film provides the right response for the audience. Broadcasters have a duty to not only entertain the viewer but to enlighten them, challenge their values and more importantly make them reassess their views on a certain subject the film may highlight or involve. In the case of Witness the viewer’s opinions on the two cultures were being challenged or in some ways the Amish culture being discovered.
Cultural difference, Justice, Violence versus pacifism, Materialism versus simplicity and individualism versus community are all factors that present incongruity but more importantly describe the contrasts between the Amish culture and modern day America. In Witness Weir had to make sure that he included and contrasted all of these factors to ensure a contrasting and realistic view of how the two cultures meet, but examples of why they never merge. The director will not use any scene without considering the effect it will have on the audience. The same applies for casting i. e.
using a child is an immediate pull on the audience’s emotions. Costumes and settings are also important to ensure the correct impact on the audience, whether it is visual or emotional. The character John Book, played by Harrison Ford is a typical, casual American man. The audience may feel that they can relate to him and his lifestyle. Therefore Ford was an excellent choice because even though he is extremely famous he keeps himself away from the spotlight of the media and his life private which enables his roles in films to remain believable and unquestioned by exploited gossip of private affairs.