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TV: Big Fat Gypsy Wedding (C4)

Simon Binns is in shock – at the state of Channel 4

Written by . Published on January 21st 2011.

TV: Big Fat Gypsy Wedding (C4)

‘DID you see that gypsy wedding thing last night!? Did you see the size of the dresses!?’

No doubt a common opening line in conversations around water coolers and kettles up and down the country today, following Channel 4’s ‘documentary’, Big Fat Gypsy Weddings.

The series, a follow on from a popular and fascinating one-off Cutting Edge last year, followed 17-year-old Josie and her frankly enormous man mountain of a fiancé Swanley in the run-up to their wedding – five-stone ‘highlighter pink’ bridesmaid's dress and all.

We were offended when Swanley used the word ‘paki’ to describe an Indian wedding, as he drove round looking for his own ceremony: (‘What’s a non-racist word for it then?’) but the whole thing was a pretty crass affair.

It was smug, sneering television, with nothing more intelligent at its root than poking fun at a pool of people who we actually know very little about. Isn’t the term ‘gypsy’ considered to be racist nowadays? Not by Channel 4, clearly.

The North West has several large traveller communities. They are, to all intents and purposes, a mystery; a closed shop. Channel 4 started to lift the lid, but sort of gave up when there was a cheap laugh to be had.

It also featured a seven-year-old traveller girl who turned up to her first communion in a dress that was bigger than your average church organ. The rest of the girls in her age group sniggered, as the traveller tot struggled to hawk herself up the aisle in a garment that weighed almost the same as her.

Were we supposed to snigger along too? Is that what it’s come to? It’s okay though, I mean, look at the size of those dresses!

The travelling community seem to exist in a confusing moral maze – the girls tend to leave school at 11, can’t be seen alone with boys (‘you’re a slut; filth’) or take a drink before their wedding day, but the boys are allowed to claim a girl by ‘grabbing’ – which at one point in last night’s programme bordered on the assault of a clearly frightened teenage girl.

The young girls seemed to be extremely over-sexualised, dressed in next to nothing and gyrating around in such a way that would almost definitely see them labelled as ‘slags’ in a nightclub. It was uncomfortable viewing, but it was never really addressed, or questioned.

They posed for wedding photographs as if they were auditioning for the centre-spread in Playboy, a dangerously inept cocktail of cleavage and confused adolescence.

So why is this? Don’t ask Big Fat Gypsy Weddings and its quasi-smug voiceover. Will we get to know and understand the people in this series of documentaries? Perhaps even empathise with them? Unlikely.

This was TV designed for the middle classes to laugh along to, safe in the knowledge they’ll never actually have to deal with these ‘travelling’ people and their funny wedding dresses.

"No but really, I mean, did you see the size of those dresses!?"

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9 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

FrustratedJanuary 19th 2011.

Just a quick correction-

The communion dress was TWICE the girl's body weight.

It is also worth pointing out that when asked what an ideal husband, two girls replied "a man who doesn't beat you"

When girls are denied education, forced to work in the home - unpaid - cleaning, cooking and raising their brothers and sisters, is it any wonder that when they grow up, their only aspiration is to marry? They have known nothing else and have no other options for financial support.

It is important for groups of people to celebrate their culture and heritage, but it is just as important to encourage equality and rights such as a basic education. Knowledge is power, and it is clear that in traveller communities the men have all the power.

&quotSome of my best friends are...&quotJanuary 19th 2011.

"This was TV designed for the middle classes to laugh along to, safe in the knowledge they'll never actually have to deal with these ˜travelling" people and their funny wedding dresses."

Judging from twitter and facebook last night, it was something to give the disenfranchised chavs in our society an "underclass" to laugh at.

If that is the case, then we are not so far away from Nazi Germany as we would like to think in these austere times, are we?

People who were delighting in their droves about this "quaint" show and its "pikeys", would probably be appalled to be termed casual racists. Surely not. "Who? Me?"

Ken Dodd's DidycoysJanuary 20th 2011.

One must resist making judgements about cultures other than one's own. Would Channel Four have made quite such a sniggering programme about British Asian Muslims, Orthodox Jews or Africans in this country practising voodoo medicine?

It appears that Romany Gypsies don't object to the use of the term ˜gypsy" whereas Irish Travellers do.

I wasn't particularly shocked by the way they live. The girls dress the way they do because they are surrounded by western popular culture, the morals are merely traditional Roman Catholic and it was all a bit North End Liverpool really.

Except that the Travellers in the programme prize hard work and commitment the family, whereas in the North End mentality fathers are feckless drunks and dope fiends and neither work nor hang around long enough to see the baby born.

Gypsy CreamJanuary 20th 2011.

Also yer non-gypsy scally girl will almost certainly be disfigured with lots of ugly and common tattoos, whereas these traveller girls had none.

Ay!Carmela!January 20th 2011.

"...in the North End mentality fathers are feckless drunks and dope fiends and neither work nor hang around long enough to see the baby born."


North End DadJanuary 20th 2011.

I would say that is the truth for posh Garston, Dingle and Granby too, no?

Ay!Carmela!January 21st 2011.

Steady, NorthEndDad. One must resist making judgements about cultures other than one's own.

Nico loverJanuary 21st 2011.

I would have to agree with the reviewer that this programme is just making fun of the travellers.
At least last year's prog seemed a bit more genuine, and at least attempted to get a bit of background on the girls.

Apparently it was one of the highest ever ratings for a Cutting edge docu, and it seems clear that channel 4 have got onto the fact that people enjoyed laughing at the girls and so have made this new series to mock them. It just all seemed a bit fake to me this time around. And why is it completely acceptable to knock everything about their morals and lifestyles all of a sudden? I was alarmed by some of the posts made on facebook where people were sneering away at them, and clearly looking down their noses, and these are supposedly open-minded, non-discriminatory friends of mine. I can't imagine anyone openly doing this about any other culture or group of people, and I think channel 4 have encouraged it.

Many of my young female friends have been openly mocking them for their traditional marriages where the men go out to work and women look after the home- but what's so wrong with that? These are the same friends I know are encouraging their boyfriends to get better jobs so they won't have to work once they have kids- it's just the same life in another format. At least the travellers are open about it and aren't trying to kid themselves or other people that they're modern career women.

FrustratedJanuary 21st 2011.

Nico Lover

I would agree with you that it is wrong to sneer about surface elements of clothing, appearance, etc.

But, I have to argue that when a certain culture or society almost wholly FORBIDS women to be educated, have a job/career, make choices for herself, and even go out of the house alone and without permission - there is a problem. If a woman or man chooses to be a stay-at-home-parent, their decisions should be celebrated - but when their is no choice, or when there is technically a "choice" but the woman cannot progress but so far with the education of an 11-year-old, there is a problem.

I'm not saying that every traveller woman needs to get a career now - I'm saying that if she wants one, there should not be so many barriers in her way.

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