What have I got to do this evening? Oh, nothing much – about a hundred household chores, books to read, a novel to edit, and research to do on various articles I want to pitch. My nails could do with a fresh coat of paint n’all. And I proper fancy a glass of wine at my local.
But am I doing any of these things? No. I’m watching My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, because every-bloody-one else is and if I don’t then I feel as though I’m missing out on a great big chunk of popular culture that seems to dominate my office at the moment. Even though it’s the equivalent of stabbing myself in the eyes with a particularly pointy toothbrush.
I suppose to narrow this episode down to a single image, I’d have to say the twenty-stone fuschia-pink wedding dress full of fairy lights that came with a fire extinguisher in case it tried to burn the bride alive was a pretty potent one. This is about as far away from a wedding as your average person would even dare to imagine, right down to the vampire-barbie Mother-of-the-bride outfit and transportation to the Church by giant bubble.
And we laugh at them, and their fake tan that looks like they’ve rolled in doritos, and their makeup that makes Jodie Marsh look like Anne Widdecombe, and their scorn for toilets because they ‘simply won’t get used’. We’ll all roll about at work tomorrow, giggling ourselves silly at the funny old gypsies. But actually – who are we to laugh?
Watching the ceremony, one thing seems abundantly apparent – the bride and groom do seem to really love each other, and genuinely seem to be doing this for good, honest reasons: the bride says she is marrying at such a young age because she doesn’t believe in living together before marriage, and on their wedding day they can’t stop professing how lucky and happy they feel to be united as one. Religion is a big part of their marriage, and they all seem to hold views that are more traditional and more strongly-held than most modern couples that decide to tie the knot. Okay, her dress looks like a Las Vegas Tutu Factory exploded on her, but I doubt she spent as much money as most ‘conventional’ brides do (those caravans do not come cheap.)
Speaking of convention, I don’t think our household will be alone in our gasps and ‘OHMYGOD DID YOU SEE THAT?’ reactions to nearly every choice made on their Big Day. It simply didn’t look like a wedding, and yet I can’t really put my finger on why I kept feeling like they were kicking the nuts of everything I hold dear about the ‘sacrament of marriage’ – her dress, while making my eyes bleed, was at least ‘decent’, and the guests had certainly put a lot of effort into their appearances in recognition of the importance of the day, so even if most of them looked like cage-fighting hookers, they were so out of respect for the nuptials. That almost makes sense in my brain.
The problem is we’re all so used to the idea of a wedding. The bride wears demure white, the children don’t have spray-tans and the dresses don’t catch fire, all because this is ‘proper’. But how does that make the marriage any more ‘decent’ than theirs? Sometimes, a break with convention is a good thing. It was a break with convention that allowed women to show their ankles in public. It was certainly a break with convention to allow two men to kiss on television before the watershed. By God did people complain about these things, but the eventual acceptance of these deviances freed up some people to live life in the way they wanted. And if they’re not hurting anyone, why is that a bad thing?
So now I feel bad for laughing incessantly, and spending the entire hour thinking the words ‘ohhhhhhhh myyyyyyyy Gooooooooood’ in one great stretched out horror of a thought. The only thing I do still have reservations over is the behaviour of the young girls – dressing and being made up like adults, not to mention dancing like them. Some of them could move their hips better than most people you’ll see trying to pull on the dancefloor of Liquid on a Friday night. And they’re eight years old. I can’t help but be horrified that they could behave with such sensual authority at such a terrifyingly young age, and that their parents seemed to think this was fine.
When asked where they learned the dance moves from, they said TV. Popstars. Beyonce and Shakira specifically: ironically two of the most ideal role models for young girls in the modern pop industry, singing their own lyrics about being independent and decent as well as doing great works for charity and remaining true to their roots and families. And… dancing exactly like the girls were dancing. The only difference is they’re old enough for it to be decent.
These kids are allowed to grow up really fast – far too fast in my opinion – but that’s not surprising with all they have to deal with at their age: throughout the hour-long documentary there are constant hints to their fight for a place to call their home, the animosity they receive from other civilians as well as the authorities, and their battle to remain true to their roots. And yet as well as behaving what I would call inappropriately, these young people seem to have developed some adult wisdom as well: the young Jerry speaks surprisingly eloquently about the injustices he feels he suffers at the hands of the council, and about why he chooses to live life the way he does.
The documentary does command a level of sympathy for the travellers as well as clearly capitalising on their outrageous behaviour for entertainment value (in the same way as Shakespeare’s contemporaries used to pay to watch people poke mental patients), but it does get to a point where us ‘normal’, markedly better off people are just laughing at the crazy poor people, and I feel pretty uncomfortable for having found it so amusing. That isn’t how I was brought up, and it isn’t how I normally treat people.
My younger brother described the programme as ‘funny but interesting’. I started out believing the former, but the more I use my brain, the more I concede the latter should be my true perception if I, too, am to stay true to my roots. I guess that’s my Big Fat Gypsy Realisation for the evening.