Thursday, 20 January 2011

Big Fat Gypsy Wedding

Could not let TV Channel 4’s Big Fat Gypsy Wedding go by without offering a few thoughts – could I? It wouldn’t be right!

Firstly, these were, going by their accents, Irish Travellers rather than Romany Gypsies. Please correct me, someone, if I am wrong. They rarely mix.

People scoff, ridicule, and look down upon the sheer brash lavishness, bright pink vulgarity, the width and weight of the dresses and so on. They will decry the 'sexual attacks’ in the apparent ‘grabbing’ rituals, the brainwashing of young girls into early marriage, a lifetime of childbearing and polishing, with no career options, that turns the clock back … I have read and heard many times over that Gypsies are known for saying what people want to hear, which they openly admit, and the girls seemed only too happy to gyrate and posture for what the cameras wanted to shoot. Displaying the ‘big knickers’; un-British ignorance of Audrey Hepburn (not that surprising considering the age group); and arguably the most ungainly walk a bride has ever managed in the history of weddings, caused no apparent embarrassment. Just pure enjoyment it seemed, in some unreal bubble of a world where modest virgins dress like tarts. Makes for good television. Yes, I know all that, but moving on.

Did you notice the underlying positives? How happy and healthy the people in this programme were? Shiny hair, bright eyes, beautiful skin, bodacious physiques? How spotless their clothes and everything about them? What a lovely sense of humour? The loyalty to family and kinship group? In some ways the (I have to say, adorable) children seemed socially mature and kind to each other. Girls living their dream, however absurd it may seem from the outside. No apparent hang-ups or grudges. No sex or alcohol before marriage, no drugs, and teenage girls never allowed to be with a boy alone before marriage. Young men who claim to take family and financial responsibilities very seriously. If you compare and contrast with some non-Gypsies they come out rather well. Well, how controversial.

In Gypsies Stop tHere, Lena is a young Romany Gypsy wife and mother of two little boys, who is cast out from her community. As you can see, in the context of this programme showing the powerful sense of belonging that is the linchpin of Gypsy and Traveller culture, this is the worst thing that can happen to a Gypsy. Also in No Gypsies Served, Dunstan, a half-Gypsy or didakoi, left his family at the age of 16 and you can see some of the consequences. It is unlikely to happen, but is a ‘what if’ scenario.

The programme did help to demonstrate why their culture persists; the difficulties of breaking away, or their lack of any wish to do so, stood out.

I am looking forward to the next episode and would love to hear your views – especially if you are a Gypsy or Traveller.