Monday, 7 February 2011
Another Grumble on Big Fat Gypsy Weddings
I understand Channel 4’s aim to achieve high ratings. To suck in an audience that might ultimately consider more serious aspects of Gypsy and Traveller life and culture, you need to lighten up first. I get that. But at what cost? By sensationalising, then deliberately selecting and focusing on the more controversial things that ‘make good television’, the producers of this series have compromised on truth a step too far. The interest has brought out truly poisonous comments – yes I have seen them on Twitter too. Referred to in a TV guide as ‘gently mocking’, I find the voice-over so apparently benign as to border on sinister. Mocking and encouraging others to mock is more damaging than people perhaps realise and affects the lives of countless people trying to find accommodation, bring up their children and earn an honest living. Romany Gypsies are outraged and aggrieved that there is no distinction made between them and Irish Travellers. (I hope they do not mind me speaking for them.) Now they have seen the way TV has chosen to display the Irish Travellers, I doubt they will ever open up to reveal some of the truths about their own culture. And who can blame them? Romany Gypsies are, on the whole, proud to be called Gypsy. Irish Travellers are not generally referred to as Gypsies, which makes the title of the programme a nonsense – and harmful too. I did a post on this on 12 February 2010 – it is complicated and mistakes can easily be made. The Race Relations Act helped to bring about this confusion by lumping together the two groups into one ethnic group for purposes of legislation and rights pertaining to travelling people, or sedentary people with a heritage of travelling. Romany Gypsies, who account for a much higher percentage of this overall group than Irish Travellers, are so far removed from this picture we see on our screens, they are appalled and probably despair at the stupidity of non-Gypsies who watch it. I hope Romany Gypsies do not mind me speaking on their behalf; they are certainly speaking up for themselves too. You can see why Gypsy Roma Traveller History Month (June each year) keeps to its title, which it has to be said does not trip easily off the tongue. To reduce it to an umbrella term would be wrong. They are different and distinct groups of people – albeit with some similarities. From giving talks on the subject, I know all too well how difficult it is to get people to listen. People come armed with questions and opinions before even hearing another point of view – I am told the term for this is ‘cognitive dissonance’. Prejudice is another term for it. I do try to comment on this whole debacle in an even tone with facts and references to substantial reports, but underneath I am FURIOUS at the damage that this programme may have done. People are working hard to improve relationships between Gypsies and Travellers and non-gypsies, by fostering more understanding and knowledge. There is a huge wound that needs to be healed, not gouged out and left to fester. The more people are exposed to these negative portrayals, the less tolerance there will be for a people who by and large just want to care for their families and earn a living. Their overriding concern it to secure accommodation. The more others dislike and object, the more unauthorised encampments there will be and the more objections there will be, in an endless vicious circle. If the wider community could just stop a minute, regard Gypsies and Travellers as individual human beings, not object when a local council proposes a small site in their area, then the ‘mess and damage’ so often quoted against them might be consigned to history.