Thursday, January 27, 2011

My Big Fat Blog About My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding

You find yourself under a winter obsidian sky, a peroxide moon providing the only illumination. You’re standing on damp grass and surrounded by gaudy tents, the distant haunting sound of an out-of-tune calliope barely audible over the wind, the smell of burnt candy floss in the air. You smell him before you see him; The Ringmaster, reeking of cheap cigarette smoke and desperation. With a bony yellowing finger he slowly beckons you towards him.

“Roll up, roll up! We have all manner of sights, sounds and spectacles for you, young one. The wooden woman, with skin of the richest mohagony. To find her age, you’d have to cut ‘er in ‘alf and count the rings!”. With this the ringmaster laughs heartily which quickly segues into a cancerous coughing fit. He regains composure, wiping the spittle from his chin and continuing. “And that’s not all, young ‘un. See the dancing girls, all of ‘em dressed like whores to a man and not one of ‘em over the age of eighteen! And, oh, the wonder – the WONDER – of their matin’ rituals! Borderin’ on rape, it is! And that’s not even to start on their dresses – some of ‘em so large we’ve had to put ‘em in a special tent of their own! A dress so gargantuan, it injures the wearer! Imagine it! One of ‘em even bleedin’ lights up like a Christmas tree!”.

He stands there for a few moments, proud of himself and his banter. After a few moments of uncomfortable silence during which he doesn’t break eye contact, he continues.

“I can see that yer look uncomfortable, youngster. You look hesitant. Comfort yerself by telling yerself that you ain’t here to mock – you’re here for a look into a culture of which you knew little nor nothing about. It’s EDUCATIONAL, so it is.”

And, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding on Channel 4, a spin-off series commissioned on the success of a one-off episode of Cutting Edge shown in Febrary 2010. It’s supposedly a serious documentary about Irish Traveller Culture. Not the genteel David-Essex-in-The-River cheeky chappy side of traveller culture however (perhaps selling you a few pegs and playing a harmonica on a barge) but the utterly preposterous screeching Irish accent side of it. It’s like a gaudy sideshow which you’re almost loathe to watch but can’t quite drag yourself away from, eagerly awaiting whatever incredulous cultural detail they’ll hurl at you next.

If it’s not the apparent contradiction of a strict Catholic moral code towards sex before marriage and prepubescent teenagers wearing skirts the width of strawberry laces, it’s mating rituals that don’t seem to have developed far from the heady romantic days of Cromagnon man.

Cromagnon Man: "Me like you. Nice tits. Me have."
Cromagnon Woman: "Please not hit me with club"
Cromagnon Man: "Me hit you with club” (Him hits her with club) “Me like you. Nice tits. Me have."
Cromagnon Woman: " "

The female dress code are elaborate wedding and communion dresses which appear to be the result of a drunken bet between Heath Robinson and Isambard Kingdom Brunel, outfits so ridiculously large that movement (and blood flow) is, to say the least, somewhat restricted.  They are each major construction works that probably require notices from the council before planning permission is given - some even fitted with a few lights that require a small fire extinguisher to be carried around.  I imagine the dress maker who features quite heavily in the show has a serious qualification in civil engineering.

The male outfits are somewhat simpler, in that you appear to simply have to own a vest.  Probably a white one, but you might wish to wear a different coloured one for a special occasion - Your own wedding, for instance.  As the world fabric mountain stockpiles have been vastly depleted by the outfit of your Bride-to-be, there isn't enough left to have any sleeves on your top.

In this weeks episode we were treated to some rarely seen delights, including the wedding of a non traveller to a member of the travelling community.  The mother of the outsider to the community was a bizarre apparition - she was clearly either no stranger to a sunbed, was the mother of Morph from Tony Hart fame, or had managed to sneak in some product placement for Ronseal.  The dress made for her daughter was the most ridiculous thing I've ever seen; a hideous pink blancmange thing (that will probably be defeated in a later episode by a young Steve McQueen) decked out with animatronic butterflies and fairy lights.  Traveller culture seems to be all about outdoing your predecessors; At this rate by the end of the decade I guarantee you there will be an outfit the size of the principality of Liechtenstein, with enough illumination to drain their equivalent of the national grid.  It will probably be visible from space, in the same way that the majority of shrieking haridans on the show can be heard from it.

So, a serious documentary or an excuse to point-at-laugh-at-the-funny-different-people?  Is it truly representative of the Traveller community or laughing at its worst excesses?  I'll be honest in that I don't care.  Either way it's absolutely compulsive television, with each episode outdoing the sheer preposterousness of the one from the week before.

At the end it'll probably all be revealed as a huge joke; that we were suckers for every believing any of the ridiculous nonsense they've been showing us.  Every character in it will end up being an actor, and we'll all feel like idiots for believing the stereotypes.  And buy some Lucky Heather from them, out of sympathy.  Or be cursed!!!

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