When it comes to pop culture references, it seems our cousins the Amish get all the attention. Englishers probably consider them more “exotic,” and therefore more cinematic or something. Yes, there are plenty of books written by Mennonites about Mennonites, but when it comes to pop culture references from the outside, they are few and far between. Besides the CBC show Pure, we don’t appear much in music, television, and feature films. Still, we did manage to find a handful of Menno pop culture references. Here they are. (These are real).
In this 2003 episode of the Simpsons, the family calls on the Amish to help them build a treehouse. Marge is impressed with their work and comments, “The Amish are so industrious. Not like those shiftless Mennonites,” who are shown playing craps. It’s no surprise to find a Mennonite reference in the Simpons, as show founder Matt Groening is of Russian Mennonite descent, his father Homer Groening, being a Plautdietsch-speaking Mennonite from Saskatchewan.
Released in 1997, the song “Lily” by 1960s folk legend and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Joan Baez mentions Mennonites. Referring to a childhood friend named Lily, she says, “Mennonite children like wild Indians in a one room school house.” Lily also “lived in a farmhouse at the edge of town,” and “at sixteen, ran away, married, her first chance to escape.”
John K. Samson
Canadian indie rock icon John K. Samson (formerly of the Weakerthans and Propaghandi) wrote about the longitudinal centre of Canada, now prominently marked on Highway 1 east of Winnipeg, near the town of Landmark. He remarks of this place, “past the Mint where a circle of provincial flags and flagging in the front yard,” that the “roar of rumble strips the Mennonite meter of the flood forecast.”
The 49th Parallel
Not quite Mennonite, but our friends the Hutterites get a few scenes in this classic British film by Michael Powell. Starring Laurence Olivier and Leslie Howard, The 49th Parallel was up for Best Picture at the Oscars that year. Meant to scare the Americans into joining the war effort, the film tells the story of Nazi spies who invade Canada via the Hudson Bay near Churchill, Manitoba. They then make their way on foot to Winnipeg and eventually to the West Coast. Just outside Winnipeg, however, they stumble upon a Hutterite colony and attempt to get the German-speaking Anabaptists to join them. The Hutterites emphatically turn down the offer. According to GAMEO, “filming of the outdoor scenes of the Hutterian Brethren was quite authentic for they were filmed at the Iberville Schmeideleut Hutterite Colony at Elie, Manitoba. Initially the Hutterians were happy to assist with the filming until one day (actress) Elisabeth Bergner was spotted by a Hutterian woman smoking and painting her nails. Incensed, the Hutterian woman knocked the cigarette from Bergner’s mouth with a slap in the face. Filming was halted until (director) Michael Powell pleaded with the community to let them continue. Bergner was eventually replaced by the much younger Glynis Johns.” You can watch the 49th Parallel in its entirety on Youtube.
“Weird” Al Yankovic
In 1996, famed comedy musician, “Weird” Al Yankovic, released a parody of Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise.” The song primarily focuses on the Amish, although in one line Yankovic says, “we’re all crazy Mennonites living in an Amish paradise.” While it’s not entirely accurate to equate the two groups, it is true that the Amish were founded as a result of a schism between Jakob Amman and the Swiss Brethren (later to be known as Swiss Mennonites).
In his most famous play “The Importance of Being Earnest,” Irish writer and humourist Oscar Wilde writes about Anabaptists. In Act 3, Chausible says to Jack, “I am grieved to hear such sentiments from you, Mr. Worthing. They savour of the heretical views of the Anabaptists, views that I have completely refuted in four of my unpublished sermons.”
Perhaps the funniest one-liner on this list is in a 2014 episode of the popular sitcom Modern Family. (Sorry, no clip). Mitch and Cam are at the wedding planners preparing for their wedding. When Mitch questions the high cost, the planner says it does not include “alcohol, cake, or music.” Mitch quickly retorts: “What’s that — the Mennonite package?”
(top photo credit: Kitty Schweizer/CC)