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Monday, December 17, 2007

Cinncinnati Enquirer Insults Amish Ohioans: Uses Photo Of Amish Farmer In Huge Ad For Electric Heaters

CINCINNATI (TDB) -- Gannett Co. Inc's morning metro daily newspaper in Cincinnati may have hit an all-time low today by throwing its advertising standards completely out the window. It has a full-page advertisement on page A-7 that touts -- under a banner headline -- electric home heaters with an Amish connection. Here's the big headline: "Amish man's new miracle idea helps heat bills hit rock bottom."

But read on into the ad's text and one discovers the Amish miracle idea has something to do with a Made in China label. "How it works! The HEAT SURGE miracle heater is a work of engineering genius from the China coast so advanced, you simply plug it into any standard wall outlet. It uses less energy than it takes to run a coffee maker."

Huh? If you believe what the Cincinnati Enquirer ad seems to be saying, the Amish are selling electric heaters imported from China. There is even a sizable photo of what appears to be an "Amish" gentleman with one of the heaters. He is holding a "UL" sign. Of course, the ad doesn't seem to mention the Amish generally try to avoid using electricity and that they also try to avoid being photographed. Indeed, Ohio has the largest population of Amish residents in North America, and Ohio State University's extension service has distributed a publication that explains how outsiders can work and visit with the Amish. It offers guidance on how to respect the sect's faith, culture and ethnic sensibilities. Much of the tract is about avoiding any trampling of their religious traditions. One big no-no -- avoid photography. OSU offers this advice:

"Pride, especially in self or accomplishments, is frowned upon. The Amish have an aversion to photography. They feel it is prideful, and some believe it is making 'a graven image.' Separation provides members with a strong sense of identity and feelings of place in their community. To maintain this separateness, the Amish reject many modern conveniences and luxuries and selectively use technology."

There is more about Amish aversion to photography and boasting here and here. Tourist literature distributed to Amish country visitors makes clear that it is disrespectful of the Amish to take their photos.

Apparently, the Gannett's Enquirer wanted the money from a large, full-page ad. Did it not see anything questionable about an Amish person appearing in the sales pitch for electric heaters imported from China? The product may be on the up and up. The sales pitch may be a bit over the top, an effort to cash in on the Amish reputation for producing quality goods. Perhaps Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann's consumer protection office should jump in and investigate the ad's claims.

The fireplace company's online portal is here and it looks to offer more details and less hype than the newspaper advertising copy. There is a mention of Holmes County, Ohio, where it seems that the wooden fireplace mantels are built.


  1. The OSU extension guidelines might not cover this, but I'd wager avoiding parody of Amish beliefs is also one way to coexist. But of course, that's apparently difficult for the Enquirer.

  2. Hi Redhorse --

    Years ago I was in Amish country for the Plain Dealer covering the appearance of a mysterious piece of artwork that was on display at the Cincinnati Art Museum. It was supposedly painted by an Amish girl, and was supposedly quite rare because the Amish did not do art. At least, that is how it was being billed by the museum.

    I talked to and interviewed several people in Holmes County trying to discover the artist who did "Amish painting."

    Eventually, an Amish man told me there was no such thing as an Amish painting, just as there is no such thing as Amish chickens. I said "Amish chickens" are sold in grocery stores all over the place. He explained that people are Amish, not chickens.

  3. Quite right.

    Back home there's a sizeable population of Amish near Arcola, about 25 miles from my undergrad digs. The town had a place called Arcola Gardens, iirc, and I went once with a girlfriend. This was a contained place, not a place like even Berlin -- with it's central strip of commercial outlets -- and was operated by the Amish.

    It felt weird, like a human zoo or Amish Epcot. I couldn't shake the notion that it was all fake (it was, after all) and designed to part the curious from their money ( it was, after all).

    But it was the zoo notion that freaked me. Never went back after that.

  4. That's hardly a typical flat Ohio Amish straw hat or beard and the guy doesn't look like someone who spent his life guiding heavy horses on a farm. Also, do you think many people confuse this page with the byline, type and art of a regular Enquirer news page? Cack-handed if advertiser hoped to benefit from validation real news would give.

  5. Hi Roinek --

    You are saying the Amish photo looks less than genuine? That the whole Amish heater thing is a fake?

    An interesting observation. I do agree with you that the ad text in the newspaper, the typeface etc., and the appearance seems designed to give a whiff that it is some kind of news article. Clearly it is an ad, but I guess some folks at the Enquirer would be tempted to sell out what is left of the newspaper's credibility for cash.