We as human beings naturally strive to participate and be active members of a “society” or a culture in order to feel incorporated into some kind of structure. Within a structured “society” there must be an in-between or “threshold people” (1 pg. 95), which is depicted by Victor W. Turner as liminality. Liminality is a state of being in-between a structured society or “limbo of statuslessness” in which the individual or group becomes homogenized (1 pg. 97). An example of a liminal culture is the Amish; they separate themselves from the “outsiders” to avoid sin. Within the Amish culture they have communitas which defined by Tuner as no social structure; this period of time is demonstrated by the Amish before they join the church or become baptized. In the book “The Ritual Process Structure and Anti-Structure” by Victor Turner, Tuner defines liminality, communitas, rituals of status elevation, rituals of status reversal, and religions of humility; in which all aid to analyze the Amish culture in the film Devil’s Playground.
Liminal individuals or cultures are those who are on the margins of society. The Amish in my perspective live in the margins of society, in-between law and structure. They willingly withdraw from normal norms of those around them. To the outside world they are in a state of communitas with no structure outside of their culture and are all homogenized, undifferentiated and equal.
The film Devil’s Playground depicts the common Amish teenager undergoing “rumspringa” (2) which is a liminal state of being for the Amish. During this period the Amish teenager is granted the liberty of experiencing the world outside of their culture. They are allowed to dress “English”, smoke, consume alcoholic beverages, talk on cell phones, drive automobiles, and a chance of courting; which are all prohibited once they join the Amish church. When the Amish teenager leaves to be in a liminal state as Turner depicts, he/she is experiencing a state of lowliness. Liminality suggests that in order to be high, one must be low and vice versa (1 pg 97). The low status comes with the granted privileges of “rumspringa” and the high status comes when they join the church. Gerald, a teenage Amish in the film depicts this state as a “vaccination” (3). This period of “rumspringa” ceases when the teenager decided to join the church by being baptized or chooses to not join the church permanently. 95% of the Amish teenagers will join (3)
Another idea of Tuner that assists on analyzing the Amish culture is that of communitas. Communitas is gained by “stripping equalizing and putting on the behavior of weakness and poverty” (1 pg.197). The Amish are stripped from having any technology because they feel that technology only makes the family structure weak. Having electricity, television, automobiles, and telephones are recognized by the Amish as temptation that could create a sense of inequality within their customs. They perceive technology sinful magnet pulling away from the Amish close-knit “society” which is not accepted.
A third idea that Tuner describes to analyze the Devils Playground are the rituals of statues elevation and the rituals of status reversal. The rituals of status elevation are defined as going from low status to a higher one. In the film this was demonstrated when the teenager decides to come out of the liminal state and become a member of the church in which he/she is at a stable state and expected to behave in agreement with the Amish customs. The rituals of status reversal are defined as a degrading of position within that culture or humbling of the individual. The Amish undergo this idea once they are stripped from the outside word renouncing to a drivers license, alcohol, electronics and everything else that is seen as sinful and as temptations to the Amish. Once they join the church and undergo the rituals of status reversal, it is thought of bringing social structure back into the individual (1 pg. 178). Marriage outside the religious guidelines is also a status reversal which is demonstrated by shunning of the individual.
Which in the “outside” world marriage is seen as a ritual status elevation. The final idea of Tuner that aids on describing the film is religions of humility. Religious humility is the “unimportance of distinctions of status, property, age, sex, and other natural and cultural differentiae” (1 pg. 189) A sign of humility is depicted by the Amish clothing style which also separated them from the “outsiders”. The Amish dress in a very simplistic style. Humility is also seen as “structural inferiority” (1 pg 91). The Amish as shown in the film have very low status employments. A carpenter to the outside world is seen as a low status job since an education and degree is seen as a higher rank. Faron, an Amish teenager in the film is very proud of his father’s carpenter status which demonstrated the unimportance of status to the Amish culture.
In conclusion, in order to keep a culture, religion, or society in tacked these gaps known as liminality and communitas are necessary. If there were no “in-between” society or structure would not exist. In my perspective after analyzing the film, Amish are seen as “liminal beings” who choose to segregate themselves from the outside world. They live in the margins of society and within their society have communitas, rituals of status elevation, and rituals of status reversal. Having liminality and communitas creates a “social average” (pg.203) in which one is given the option of different paths; equality, humility, status reversal, and status elevation.
1.Turner, Victor W. The Ritual Process Structure and Anti-Structure. Chicago: Walter de Gruyter, Inc. 1995. 2.Wikipedia Foundation Inc. Amish. 25 January, 2012. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amish 3.Cantor, Steven. & Walker Lucy. (2002) Devil’s Playground . United States: Colombian Pictures.