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.

Big fat cultural stereotypes 

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.

  • Sir Hannibal

    However, we all subsidize their existence through the tax system, so there is a school of thought that suggests that they should be national playthings required to perform for our amusement.

    • Cambridge

      at its finest.

      lolcano! Look, Piers! A poor person!

      • Irony

        Hi there, I don't think we've met?

    • Let me guess

      You read the Daily Mail?

  • freedom

    Everyone who appears directly on camera will have signed to agree (or their parents will for the 6 year olds). Who are we to say that they shouldn't do this.

    I disapprove of a lot of stuff shown on TV (this included) but I see no reason to start banning things I dislike. I know its a cliche but no-one is making you watch it.

    • You've missed

      the point entirely. The article isn't complaining about the quality of the show, or whether or not its enjoyable to watch – its about the attitude towards these groups that the show represents, which is 'point and laugh, then switch the tv off'. The point is under-privilege should not be comical; and regardless of the fact they've consented to appear on it, the show is a huge vehicle for maintaining their marginalization.

      • John Smiths

        To be fair, Gypo's are quite werid.

    • J.W.

      Also, who said it should be banned?

  • Speak

    for yourself, love. How many of us really get any insight into a community which is so secretive? So what if they show some scanty-clad women and try to jazz it up a bit? At least it's giving people a new perspective on these people. The only time I see travellers on TV is on the news so it's about time we got an insight into their culture! And who are we to judge someone else's culture?

    • its hardly

      an insight into their culture. its a glammed up presentation of the bits of a marginalised group that appeal most to a mass audience. As pointed out by the traveller blogger mentioned in the article, this generates negative consequences (perhaps or perhaps not unintended) for perceptions of the traveller community…

  • This is

    stupid. The argument that we should tolerate/ value misogyny, criminality, depriving your children an education, animal cruelty etc etc because it's "their culture" is nonsense.

    • This is

      racism in action? You've in one swift stroke called *ALL* travellers misogynists, and criminals, said that they are cruel to animals and deprive their children of an education. Ignorance in action.

      • Not sure

        that I did say that. They definitely do all of those things more than the general population though. As evidenced by their overrepresentation in prison, lower than average exam grades etc

        Also why are gypsies a "race" ? Why does electing to behave a certain way make you a race? Are hipsters a race?

      • Not quite

        If anything that's something which this programme HAS shown, in amongst all the stereotypical stuff which admittedly gets more attention. But it has shown traveller kids who stay at school to get their GCSEs, traveller women who've forged their own careers, travellers who demstrate that the stereotypes aren't universal.
        However, I do take issue with the mysogyny which is undoubtedly present in several gypsy communities and is exacerbated by many gypsy children not getting the chance to have a full education.

  • If the traveller

    community accommodates the show without protest then whatever, I don't care. It can melt the brains of whoever watches it.

    • they do

      protest. the article was prompted by this open letter by a traveller blogger

  • are they really

    underprivilaged? I couldn't afford one of those weddings! Travellers have the same education opportunities as the majority of other people in the country- they may choose not to take them and choose to spend money on different things instead.

    • You

      also can't spell.

  • Copious amm-

    -ounts of unnecessary comment-splitting go-

  • Norman Burg

    They're the ones who've decided not to be contributing members of society. I don't see why laughing at people on My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding is any different from laughing at unfortunate cases on X factor or Fear Factor.

    Bleeding heart liberals.

  • hmm

    You make some good points about how the show ridicules gypsy culture and makes no attempt to understand it, advocating the appreciation of difference, but then you go on to deduce that they are a group of underprivileged people, therefore are suffering from some kind of deficit. Where did that come from? Surely that's just as offensive, if not more so, than simply not attempting to understand another's cultural experience because it is considered different.

  • Fed up

    Once they stop evading tax and destroying parts of my local area then we can talk. Until then they are criminals.

  • -ing on

    here

  • John Smiths

    "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."

    That you confuse chavs with the working class shows your own snobbery,

    Good thing we can all learn a lesson in class sensitivity from someone whose solid every-man background puts them in a good position to judge, Allegra Le Fanu- might as well be Jane Smith

    • except

      she's saying the exact opposite of what you claim she is.

      the title of the book she cites suggests that parts of the working class are demonised in popular culture as 'chavs'. she then criticises the use of the term 'chav' in order to defend said parts of working class from being dehumanised and treated as scum by other bits of society. she doesn't claim that a) all working class people are chavs or b) all chavs are working class.

  • Del Boy

    I thought this was a good article, there is huge social prejudice particularly within Cambridge, evidenced by the relative support that pretty prejudiced comments on this page have got. Sad to see some of the comments on this page, but then from speaking to many prejudiced Cambridge students and seeing the prejudice levelled against many here (whether from other countries, or students from colleges with negative prejudices applied against them by some other students) there is definitely a problem.

  • Average Joe

    Scrap metals thieves, drug dealers and dodgy builders always up for a bit of drunken grevious bodily harm in the evening. When they stop acting like that i'll stop going on like this. Maybe we should stop mocking them when the lead appears back on the church roofs.