Thursday, 20 January 2011

Comment: Big Fat Gypsy Weddings- Insightful TV or Just Plain Racist?

Hands up who watched Channel 4 at 9pm on Tuesday, for My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding?

Now hands up who laughed, tweeted "jokes" or watched purely because they saw the programme as comedy?

I thought so.

Sadly, I wasn't watching with the same mirth as many.

Elder is an ex-traveller. He lived in a caravan until he was 8 with his Mum. After this they would travel in the summer holidays, meeting up with friends and family, whilst living in a flat the rest of the time so Elder could go to school. These are times he remembers fondly.

In the time when Elder would have been considered a Traveller, he went to countless parties, either wedding, funeral, communion or otherwise- he went to the same Epsom Festival back in this childhood as was featured in the documentary.

Of all these events he went to, whilst Elder readily admits that everyone made an effort with their dress and wore their most expensive clothes and flashiest jewellery, he never saw any weddings as shown in the programme, or OTT communion dresses that Channel 4 has emphasised on the recent episode.

It is sold by Channel 4 as an insightful view of the mystery surrounding the traveller community. I failed to see that shown at all.

The programme was very one sided to the comical view of the Traveller, only presenting a view of the minority who opt for the "bigger is better" ideal. Not all Travellers deem it necessary to wear such huge and heavy dresses, rather they wear your average wedding dress or communion dress. These events are "big", just like anyone elses, and like any parent, the Traveller family spends as much as possible on making those one off events as enjoyable, and memorable as possible.

The section showing the young child who wore the oversized Communion dress was met with tweets of horror, and disgusting comments towards the child and the little boy with her. People questioned her parents ability as responsible adults, and I even saw people expressing the viewpoint that the child should be in care. 

No one commented about how much that little girl smiled at having her dream dress- yes, her dress, not one forced upon her by order of her parents, one she had specifically chosen- and how that child will never forget that day in her life. By comparison,the other children who were there for the same day out looked bored.

Like any parent, this child's parents wanted to make her day special, and what parent can be written about with anything other than praise for doing everything to make their child happy?

With respect, this programme would never be made with the spotlight on any other ethnic minority community, or at least not in the same way.

My Landlord is currently planning (and paying for) his daughter's wedding. He has bought her a house which is being re-decorated to her standards, paid for by her Dad. She has 1100+ guests coming to the wedding, which will go on over a whole weekend. Paid for by her Dad.

Now imagine we had a programme about the excesses of the cost of this wedding- called along the same lines "My Big Fat Indian Wedding". It would never be allowed to poke fun at the Indian, or any other, community in the same way as it would mean journalists and amateur bystanders alike up and down the country shouting Racist before Channel 4 even shouted Cut.

The way the current Gypsy programme is being handled means it may as well be called "My Big Fat Pikey Wedding" instead.

And to refer to the teens (4 of them) as "running in a pack". Sorry, a what?

These teen girls had no make up on, they did not have a bottle of Cider (or worse) in their hands, they were out in daylight, and not one was seen with a cigarette.

To suggest it is unusual for teen girls to hang around together is obviously the view of an uninformed writer who hasn't walked through their local park of an evening, and met with the daunting sight of 30+ mixed gender, drinking, swearing and smoking teens, snogging and worse still. They obviously have never watched (grudgingly) an episode on any weekday of Jeremy Kyle and seen the consequences of non-Traveller teens needing DNA tests to determine which spotty oik a girl has produced an offspring with.

In the traveller community, behaviour is everything- they marry for life, are virgins beforehand and are chaperoned if going out with a member of the opposite sex. They are respectful of their elders, and would never disgrace their family with the kind of behaviour that is ever increasing amongst the non-Traveller teen community.

No matter how they are persecuted, called scum, laughed at and moved on, the Traveller community remains strong, unbreakable.

Now tell me how well you know the neighbours on your street, in your community?

Before we seek to poke fun of things we don't understand, maybe we should act more responsibly and take a look at our own young people and communities first.

And perhaps "edgy" channels like 4 could give a properly rounded, well researched and truly insightful programme, rather than this "mockumentary" they are currently responsible for.

Image: Nutdanai Apikhomboonwaroot /


  1. Channel 4 is out to look for the most dramatic and outrageous stories they can find and even if they seem a bit so-so when being filmed, the guys back in the editing suite will make it look way different.

    I haven't watched it, mainly because I know how C4 work when comes to making documentaries so I stick to BBC usually (ITV News makes me cringe as much as C4 does). I just prefer truth and not glammed up and editted hugely just for the figures to be higher then ever before.

  2. Claire - only just caught up with your blog and missed this when you first posted it. I have to agree with the majority of what you have written - even though I was tweeting during the programme, and again this week - but I look at the gypsy life from a slightly different angle. We have a permanent camp just around the corner from us. In the main, the community is great - the lads are out to "prove something" from time to time but any trouble and the adults curb in almost immediately.

    The programme *is* edited to cause controversy and discussion and it is a very naive person who thought that this programme was going to dispel any myths about the travelling community. The rubberneckers will see the programme at its face value and nothing more.

    Tonight's programme did hit home though. There were a lot of tweets about the dresses for the wedding (a traveller marrying an outsider - imagine that eh?) and the communion but when the bailiffs & the council came in and demolished a whole camp, Twitter was noticeably quiet... and very uncomfortable.

  3. I've transcribed word for word some clips from the first 5 minutes of BFGW. You can verify this for yourself on 4OD. Except I'm going to find/replace the just the words "travellers" and "gypsy" with "white", and "non-traveller" and "non-gypsy" with "black". See how you feel reading this:

    "Whites are afraid their traditions will disappear".
    "They are worried that culture will die out"
    "They want to preserve their society, they want to keep it just them, so its pure".
    "They don't want their society diluted by blacks, they want to keep it as pure as they possibly can, so a black coming in is going to dilute it, another step down the line to being wiped out, basically".
    (later) "Pat faces criticism for marrying a black".

    Everyone still at ease, or is there a little bit uncomfortable shifting in chairs right now?

    It wasn't so much the program itself that was of interest, but the commentary surrounding it, especially the regular tweets from Amnesty during the show reminding us to campaign for gypsy rights, and comments here about "sneering". And when did it suddenly become acceptable to spray-tan 8 year-olds so they suffer welts, then watch them gyrate in micro-skirts?

    Either, as EHRC and Amnesty seem to think, travellers and gypsies are a race, or they're not. Either way, the travellers are surely guilty of appalling racism and xenophobia.

    There's an appalling stench of double-standards wafting from the direction of those, especially on "the right on left" accusing the show of sneering voyeurism and racism.

  4. I haven't watched this at all, but have felt very uncomfortable at some of the comments I've seen on Facebook and Twitter. I cannot imagine that Channel 4 has made a balanced documentary, as I've never seen them manage that before. Just the title of the programme makes me cringe and seeing terms like 'gypo' all over the place is making me sick, frankly.

  5. Helen: Thats what my feeling is, the question of clever editing, and I have to say I think if a programme is going to really show something as truth as a full documentary, rather than a ratings grabber, then they need to show it in it all, not just the hand picked portions- elsewise it feels like a replacement for Big Brother.

    Nickie: Yes, I'm particularly pleased that the nastier side of life as a traveller was shown- to my mind, this is land that for the most part the Travellers have bought fair and square, and they do so to have the best of both worlds, in that the kids can go to school, they have sanitation, and a good standard of living, all be it without the bricks and mortar we're used to, or is seen as socially the norm or acceptable. Ed experienced being moved on, and his thought was that they had been on their "best behaviour" due to the Police, he saw a lot worse behavior from Police and Baliffs. And yes, there are good and bad in all communities, with the Traveller community, when they fall out, its dealt with with a good old fashioned fist fight. Sadly, its not the same for a lot of other social groups who resort to knives and guns to settle disputes.

    TwitForBrains: Thanks for stopping by, and welcome to my blog. I think your comments are interesting, you make a very well backed up point. However, I'm not entirely sure whether you are for or against the programme?

    Tasha: Yes I know you're not the only person to feel that way, in fact I was shocked at some supposedly intelligent people's perhaps less than well thought out response to the programme. I think before anyone got involved with a Channel 4 documentary they wold need to watch this and think very carefully beforehand.


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