Proper Gander: Point and Sneer

‘Did you see those tacky dresses worn by those gypsy girls? One had a big pineapple on it. The other was shaped like a palm tree. Ridiculous, they were, and they cost thousands. I bet they didn’t pay for them by hard work. That’s my taxes paying for their benefits, it is’.

This seems to be the reaction expected by the makers of Channel 4’s fl y-on-the-wall docusoap Big Fat Gypsy Weddings. It’s one of those programmes churned out for bored office workers to talk about at the water cooler. It wants us to be voyeurs, pointing and sneering at the funny gypsies in their funny clothes.

The whiff of prejudice hanging around behind the cameras became more noticeable with the stink caused by the latest series’ advertising campaign. Billboard posters promised that the show would now be ‘Bigger. Fatter. Gypsier’. In a complaint made by the London Travellers Unit and two members of the London Assembly, it was rightly pointed out that Channel 4 probably wouldn’t promote a programme as ‘Jewisher’ or ‘blacker’.

Why do they feel they can get away with advertising this show in this way? The answer is that prejudice against gypsies and travellers is seen as acceptable by many people because of the misplaced  assumption that they are ‘spongers’. Gypsies continue to be scapegoats for several of society’s problems, much like Jewish and black people have also been. So they remain, almost by definition, marginalised in capitalist society. It seems that the gypsy communities’ younger members have overcompensated for this by lapping up society’s excessive demands to focus on image.

Those appearing on Big Fat Gypsy Weddings don’t do themselves any favours by dressing up young girls like Barbie dolls and instilling a fierce competitiveness to be the most ‘attractive’. But, of course, the programme makers are using their favourite tool for moulding the truth – selective editing. There are a few token mentions of those in the gypsy community who aren’t image obsessed, but the overwhelming emphasis is on false-tanned bling-addicts. Big Fat Gypsy Weddings brings together these misrepresented gypsies and cynical programme makers in what is best described as an unhappy marriage.

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