My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding: Fact or Fiction?

Romany Journalist and broadcaster Jake Bowers dropped by at the Herbert Art Gallery on Friday the 4th, to give us an insight in to channel 4’s cutting edge documentary “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding”

A programme watched by 9 million viewers with the statistics growing weekly has been a huge success the makers say and an American version is ‘in the pipe line.

More than two thirds of the audience who attended the presentation by show of hands believed they were watching a documentary as well as a true insight into the traveller’s community.

Mr Bowers started his presentation with an overview of who he is. I am a husband, a father, a brother and a friend he said.

He is also a Romany gypsy community member, a former presenter of BBC radio programme for the travelling community. He has contributed to the ‘Guardian’, the ‘independent’ and the ‘ecologist.’ He edits the Traveller’s Times and runs a Gypsy Media Company which aims to broadcast the real truth about gypsies.

Additionally, he gave an over view of who gypsy travellers are. They are an estimate of 30,000 people with Romany gypsies forming 60 percent whilst ethically Irish traveller’s forms 10 percent. New traveller’s form 5% however these are people who have chosen to live their lives as travellers: Nomadic by choice. Roma gypsies form 15 percent and they tend to be darker skin and come from eastern European state. In all we are looking at a population of over 12 million people; bigger than Sweden and Denmark put together he reported.

Over the years gypsies have always been portrayed negatively in the media. They have been stereotyped in literature as depicted in the ‘hutch back of Notre dame’ and in film as seen in ‘Snatch’ for example.

Press propaganda against this community hasn’t been any better. The continuous negative representation of his community is one of the reasons he became a journalist. He stated that he used to think he was the only Romani journalist but added there are three others now.

He reiterated the fact that the programme has been created having no experts from the gypsy community involved and a dress maker acting as spokes person is not in good taste.

Journalist Bowers described the programme as a sneering ‘mockumentary’ not journalism. The Tone and voice over did no justice to the documentary either. Young brides tripping and falling over on their wedding day was just disgraceful not to mention the wrong invited guests in attendance. He added: this is just ‘Trailer trash Flintstones’ showing an unbalanced representation and adding insult not insight.

Channel 4 defended themselves saying they didn’t create any new stereotype. Mr Bowers stated that they didn’t challenge the old ones either but have rather added to it and that was an utter heartbreak to his community. The added stereotype has resulted in unprecedented consequences such as people losing their jobs and also encouraged more bullying in the play ground.

He distastefully stated how his culture has been described as everything that glistens. This is clearly shown in the wedding and communion dresses deck in thousands of crystals. Anyone watching this programme would think we were all ‘loaded’ he said.

Grabbing, he strongly reaffirmed “is not a gypsy tradition. It is a blatant sexual that does not define who we are.” This is a programme that sexualises children, juxtaposes young gypsy girls as prostitute but with morals, women are presented as domestic slaves and their world is described as a man’s world.

He admitted that their attitude towards woman may not be up to date with the 21st century’s definition but describing their world as misogynistic one is deeply offensive.”

The gypsy culture he enlightened has its roots in India so it affects the way they dress and how they see women, however they do accord respect to their women. Eighty percent of the people used in the programme were Irish travellers and that is a poor presentation of Britain’s gypsies.

This programme has prompted a backlash from the gypsy community.  There has being a massive internet revolution and complaints to channel 4 as well as 175,000 facebook fans. The Guardian has called it a platform for bigotry and this resulted in a change of the sound track so that it was less mockery.

Channel 4 has been rumbled for presenting documentary as fact and this programme has prompted an unfinished business and the debate will still carry. The programme was entertainment and should have been clearly labelled as such he added.

Mr Bowers also mentioned that his greatest objection to the programme is not what was in it but rather what could have been in it. There are lots of untold story about the gypsy community. The programme could have looked at  Roma as the fastest growing community, the forced sterilisation of gypsy women, the educational segregation they experience, poverty, crime and also the trafficking of gypsies from Europe.

This programme has left some viewer genuinely surprised as well as fuelled more hatred. There is a great deal of debate going on about representation and non-gypsies are left confused. However the silver lining he sees, is the programme has granted his community a huge media attention.

He concluded that “being gypsy is not defined by life style but rather by bloodline. We have a language and an identity.

When asked if the gypsy community was a secretive one he boldly replied “no”. We are just like everybody else and we just want to live our lives. Most of us don’t live in caravans anymore he added.

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