‘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 this morning, 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.
Manchester has several large traveller communities, notably in Gorton to the east of the city. 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!?