So My Big, Fat, Gypsy Wedding is under attack for being racist?
This week’s outcry over Channel 4’s advertising campaign smacks of a certain hypocrisy and no small amount of double-dealing in my eyes.
Accused of stereotyping gypsies as it pulls in the channel’s highest ratings this year, complaints over Channel 4’s poster campaign has reached a crescendo with billboards being defaced all over Leeds.
That the show does stereotype gypsies is certain. And the accusation that the advertising campaign is racist with its tagline ‘Bigger. Fatter. Gypsier’ is probably true too. I am sure that the channel would not get away with ‘Bigger. Fatter. Jewisher.’ which in my eyes proves a certain level of racism.
For Romany gypsy and Evening Post columnist James Petulengro the show is a real cause for concern as he watches his culture defamed each week. He argues that the series contains no truth at all and is probably highly scripted. Well, he’s probably right. He also points out what we have all noticed, that there are very few men featured and the focus is on the women, dressed outrageously, showing off their wares in a desperate bid to be noticed.
It is this last point that hones in on my real cause for concern. The way the show portrays young women, Romany gypsy or Irish traveller, it makes no odds. This week the focus was on the first communion of three young girls shown in beauty parlours, having their hair and nails done, with spray and sun-bed tans, all in an effort to out-bid each other and look good for God. The action then switched to the after communion party. While the girls gyrated on the dance floor in the smallest of outfits, the boys threw food at each other and wrestled, each gender seemingly unaware of the other. Thankfully the practice of ‘grabbing’ does not seem to take place at communion parties.
The last two thirds of this week’s freak fest focused on a wedding and beauty pageant. Both displaying women in a throwback to pre-feminist days, where looking good, attracting a male and keeping a clean home were the only occupations available to women.
My concern is that Channel 4 seems to have lost the plot here. The series was conceived from a one-off documentary that intended to show the world that the gypsy way of life was not so threatening, a little different maybe, but a world that we could understand and be more accepting of, less prejudiced against.
And yet the renewal of the series seems to have forgotten all of this in its efforts to attract the largest possible audience.
During the week it was suggested that the channel had received hundreds of complaints and yet this morning (Saturday 18th February) it was reported that, out of an audience of 5.7m viewers, only 97 had actually complained to the Advertising Standards Authority.
It could be that the whole racism row has actually been orchestrated to get even more publicity for a series that actually should be answering accusations of sexism.
Kim Akass is a Senior Research Fellow and lecturer in Cutural and Contextual Studies (Film/TV) at the University of Hertfordshire. She has published widely on US TV, is co-founding editor of Critical Studies in Television and is co-editor (with Janet McCabe) of The Reading Contemporary TV series for I.B. Tauris. She is currently working on a book about mothers in the media for I.B. Tauris and is webmistress of CSTonline.