Many of you will have watched the first episode of CBC’s mini-series Pure last night (Jan. 9). As a spectator, I was mildly entertained. As a Canadian who loves this culturally diverse country, I was troubled. As an historian who has written extensively about both the Old Order horse-and-buggy Mennonites of southern Ontario and the Low German Mennonite migrants from Mexico, I was deeply dismayed.
It is especially problematic that the show comes from the CBC, our publicly owned, national radio and TV company. It is, after all, charged with the responsibility to enhance respect and understanding among Canada’s diverse ethnic and religious groups.
The show 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 within the wider Mennonite mosaic. The show seems sloppily researched and caricatures what it purports to be a real community. It gets many things wrong: the accents, the names, the dresses, the theology, the very buggy used, the church architecture, the very notion of the existence of a “colony.”
Highly problematic, it conflates an actual story of a drug smuggling ring involving fringe elements—no longer linked to the church—within the Low German-speaking Old Colony Mexican Mennonite immigrant community with the horse-and-buggy, Pennsylvania Dutch-speaking Old Order Mennonites of Ontario.
In real life, the leaders from both groups talk easily about their struggle to maintain the biblically based, countercultural ways of their communities, to counter consumer culture and divisive individualism. However, the thought that one of their leaders would be overtly dishonest and engaged in illegalities in order to achieve communal purity is simply not plausible.
I am personally acquainted with the bishops and ministers—not pastors, by the way—of both the horse-and-buggy Old Order Mennonite and Old Colony immigrants from Mexico. I have repeatedly found among them qualities of honesty and integrity, and a profound respect for the law and for their non-Mennonite neighbours.
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. Instead of an artistic portrayal based on a serious inquiry into the nature of Canada’s most traditionalist Mennonite communities—places that strive for communal wholeness, closeness to nature, simplicity and kindness—the CBC has engaged in misrepresentation, with a seemingly misguided aim to entertain and titillate.
With this show, CBC will be party to stereotyping rather than respecting, and disparaging diversity rather than promoting it. We must expect much more from our national, publicly owned media.
Royden Loewen is the Chair in Mennonite Studies at the University of Winnipeg. This was originally posted on the Journal of Mennonite Studies’ Facebook page on Jan. 10, 2017.
See other viewpoints on the show:
Is our indignant response to Pure righteous?
Review: Show not so pure in its depiction of Mennonites
Willard Metzger’s blog post, CBC Drama ‘Pure’: Gift or irritant?
Sam Steiner’s blog post, ‘Pure’—the CBC drama—Episode 5