This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Wife Swap reality show targets Mennonites

posted by Tim Nafziger on 01/11/09 at 11:57 PM

This past week, the producers of the Television show “Wife Swap” sent out an email soliciting a Mennonite family to participate in their show. The email, with the subject line “Seeking Strong Families with Strong Morals” says “we are hoping to reach a Mennonite family that would be willing to share their lifestyle and views with another family.”*

Wife Swap is a reality television show that has been on the air since 2003. As the title suggests, the premise is that two women swap households. During the first week, the visiting woman must follow the rules and habits of her host family, which always includes a father and at least one child over seven. The wikipedia article on “Wife Swap” says, “In fact, the show will usually deliberately swap wives with extreme polar opposite lifestyles, such as a dramatically messy wife swapping with a fastidiously neat one.”

It’s not too hard to imagine who the “Wife Swap” producers would imagine as polar opposites of a Mennonite family. The email says, “…we are interested in Mennonite families because of their views on peace and their hopeful outlook towards the world.”

Anabaptists have been the subject of reality television shows before. You may remember the controversy around “Amish in the City,” a show that took five Amish teenagers and put them in an apartment in the city with “worldy” roommates. Over 50 members of congress wrote UPN to protest the show, which went ahead anyway. It was recieved with skepticism by Mennonite scholars and a luke warm reception from audiences. See the Mennonite Weekly Review article for more: Good reviews, skepticism greet debut of Amish show

It’s not surprising then that the email from the “Wife Swap” producers takes a defensive tone. It says, “This email is not meant to be offensive in any way, nor am I looking to exploit anyone. I am simply hoping to find a great family with strong views and strong morals.”

What can the family who volunteers expect? The Winter 2007 issue of the Communities Magazine includes an article by Melanie Rios entitled “A ‘Wife-Swapping’ adventure: There’s more then one way an ecovillager can influence wider culture”. Rios tells the inside story of her experience as a participant in the “Wife Swap” reality show.  Her experience is not as negative as she expected, nor as good as she hoped.

As a resident of an eco-village, Rios was paired with a family into hummers and pampered pet dogs. She hoped to get the word out to a broader audience about global warming, Peak Oil and other serious socioeconomic issues. Not surprisingly she reported that most of her discussion of these issues was cut out of the show when it aired. Yet some part of her story and her communities story was included. Given the choice, she reported that she would do it over again:

It’s way more work than one would imagine. But if you are passionate about sharing your ideas with others, and you believe you can stay calm under stressful conditions, I’d say go ahead. Participating in the show allows one to reach a broader audience then normal because the producers make the shows entertaining, while including people from a wide variety of lifestyles.

Will a Mennonite family step forward and take the producers of “Wife Swap” up on their offer? Is this a great opportunity to tell the world about peacemaking and simple living? Or is it another crass attempt to exploit Anabaptists? I look forward to reading your comments.

*The email from the producers of wife swap in its entirety:

Subject: Seeking Strong Families with Strong Morals

Sent: Tuesday, January 06, 2009 2:35 PM

I am a Casting Producer from the television show “Wife Swap.” Here at “Wife Swap” we are hoping to reach a Mennonite family that would be willing to share their lifestyle and views with another family. The basis of our show is to give two families a once in a lifetime opportunity to switch lives for a week.

This unique premise was created in hopes that families would be able to learn about new and different lifestyles while getting to know themselves a bit better. While the term “reality television” is full of negative connotations, we never try to make people look bad or encourage negativity. “Wife Swap” was designed to simply remove people from their element in hopes that they will become more open-minded and learn valuable lessons to share with the entire family.

Each week on “Wife Swap,” the mothers from two families with different values and belief systems will exchange lives. It’s an amazing family experience and opportunity to learn how others really lead their lives. Half of the week, mom lives the life of the family she is staying with. After making her observations, she introduces several “rule changes,” where she implements rules and activities that are important to her family. It’s a positive experience for people to not only learn but teach about other families and other ways of life. “Wife Swap” airs on Disney owned ABC television on Fridays at 8 pm- the family hour!

If you are a two-parent family with at least one child over the age of 7 living at home, and you think your family would be interested in being a part of this groundbreaking show please let me know.

Currently we are interested in Mennonite families because of their views on peace and their hopeful outlook towards the world. This email is not meant to be offensive in any way, nor am I looking to exploit anyone. I am simply hoping to find a great family with strong views and strong morals.

Please contact me at [email removed] for more information, or the recommendation of a great family you may know.

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