ALLEGRA LE FANU on how “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding” legitimises Britain’s class divide.
“Bigger. Fatter. Gypsier.” So read the adverts for the new series of Channel 4’s My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, a show which promises “a window into the secretive, extravagant and surprising world of gypsies in Britain today”.
But as the teenage Romany blogger Pipopotamus wrote in an impassioned open letter to Channel 4 last week, the programme has a darker side, having a cheap laugh at the expense of a culture it makes no effort to understand.
The British do a great line in having a laugh at the poor. Last year’s Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class by Owen Jones brilliantly skewed the national sport of pointing and laughing at a working class we presume trashy, tacky and lazy, from Vicky Pollard to Jade Goody.
My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding points and laughs in this way: look at the bride in her rhinestone wedding dress! Look at the bridesmaids gyrating in their slutty clothes! Look at the six year olds nearly keeling over in their several stone First Communion dresses! Isn’t it funny? And aren’t they primitive?
Never mind that the show makes no effort to understand its subjects; that it views the two distinct Romany and Irish Traveller communities as interchangeable; that it seems to have found only one “insider” willing to comment on her contact with the community, dressmaker Thelma Madine (who’s secured herself a book deal out of her time on the show).
My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding has no real interest in psychologising or contextualising the traveller perspective. It’s far more convenient to reiterate the same scenario episode after episode – Tacky clothes! Massive cakes! And how is she going to get into that car? – rather than offer any kind of development.
It’s also convenient because as long as we can laugh at the underprivileged for being lazy and unsophisticated and uneducated, we don’t have to address why they’re underprivileged in the first place.
“That’s just the traveller way” is the show’s refrain, and the alienation of an already ostracised community can continue. My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding is so preoccupied with showing us what – the events, the trailers, the clothes – that it’s never stopped to ask why this community seems alien in the first place: because it has been alienated.
My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding has ultimately missed the bigger questions; so content is it to zoom in on the sequins and rhinestones that it’s yet to zoom out and provide a considered long shot of a much misunderstood community.