Sunday, 13 February 2011


I have a secret guilty pleasure. Aside from the occasional (ahem) bar of chocolate, sherbet dib-dabs, midget gems and Saturday afternoons spent with bad-ass friends in the pub watching football, I feel compelled to own up to watching My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding on Channel Four. As much as you admonish yourself for watching such tripe, it's totally mesmerising television. The gypsy weddings on this programme have to be seen to be believed. Of course there's been the usual controversy over the show's depiction of the travelling community. Romany travellers in particular, are up in arms at C4's slant on this little-understood segment of society. They call for a more balanced depiction stating it's the Irish travellers who behave in this outlandish way, not the Romany travellers.  
The programme follows the extravagant rituals and marital celebrations of modern gypsy life. It shows the fantastically over-the-top weddings complete with taffeta-laden dresses weighing up to 14 stones, Cinderella-style carriages not to mention helicopter rides bringing in the gooning bridegroom and ushers. It all makes fascinating and compulsive viewing on a section of community which is often maligned and marginalised. Viewers watch aghast and must raise big questions such as 'how the Hell do casual labourers who are barely educated, find the proceeds to fund £150,000 weddings?'. It also raises awkward questions about the roles of men and women in the travelling community. As a female watching this programme, I feel quite uneasy at the seemingly 'fixed' female roles within the gypsy community. Girls appear to be educated up to the age of 12 where they are then 'groomed' to be married at a very young age. Typically, once married they are expected not to work and surrender any independence to a life of subservience.
Yes, MBFGW is gaining huge tv ratings and is indeed an eye-opener of a programme. It's a little bit of escapism and dare I say, voyeurism into the sometime secretive communities living within the wider society. I just wish C4 hadn't made it so sensationally headline-grabbing and focused too heavily on the Hello Magazine Las Vegas-style weddings. Travelling communities also have a higher than national average issue surrounding mental health issues. I'd also be interested in how the travellers deal with wider issues such as homosexuality within their community? The male-female roles seem so predisposed to marriage and child bearing, that I wonder if there is any tolerance towards LGBT travellers? From what I've seen so far, it doesn't appear to, but there's a couple of episodes left so you never know. For the time being though, it's a corker of a programme which you tend to watch behind the sanctity of your sofa cushions.   

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