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In this open letter to Channel Four Romany blogger Pipopotamus takes issue with their representation of the traveller community in the mini series 'Big Fat Gypsy Weddings'

Big Fat Gypsy Weddings

Dear Channel 4,

It surprised me to discover that 99% of Britain's Gypsy and Traveller population are Irish. Correct me if I'm wrong, as I am sure you have done lots and lots of research on this topic, but just 10% of the Gypsy andTraveller population are actually Irish Travellers. The majority, like myself, are in fact Romany, yet your 'documentary' seems to ignore our existence. While I have nothing but respect for the Irish Traveller community, you seem to be unaware that we are two distinct ethnic groups and thus there are many differences between our cultures. While Irish Travellers originate from Ireland, we can trace our routes back to India, so it was hardly surprising that I was somewhat confused when you use the word Gypsy in the title of your 'documentary' about Irish Travellers. I was even more confused when your 'documentary' about Irish Travellers seemed to feature an alien culture that even most Irish Travellers didn't recognise.

You correctly identified that many Gypsy and Traveller children leave school at a young age, however you failed to mention that this is not because we are all born to terrible parents, but because our communities suffer from great social exclusion. State education fails to adapt to anything but mainstream culture, thus we have to contend with a curriculum that is totally irrelevant to our way of life. Moreover, both teachers and students seem ignorant of our cultures, thus we are labelled as troublemakers and bullied for being different. The myths that you have been spreading have not helped matters. Indeed, I was subjected to physical attacks during your last series of your 'documentary' which ultimately led to my expulsion from school (long story), whilst my 12 year old cousin was beat up on her way home from school by a gang of girls who were calling her a prostitute.

As you can see, there are many reasons as to why Gypsy and Traveller children are failing to attend school, but you seem to have forgotten to feature those of us that do stay in education. Take myself, for example, I'm currently at college studying a range of subjects such as, History and Sociology. Moreover, my sister trained to be a hairdresser, my aunty went to university and is now a social worker and some of my cousins completed apprenticeships, thus clearly dropping out of education is not a prerequisite of living in a trailer.

You're 'documentary' has an unhealthy obsession with little girls. While I understand that the outfits worn by some of your younger stars could be considered a little risqué, I see only little girls having fun and dressing up for a special occasion. Your 'documentary' appears to be suggesting that we are inappropriately sexualising our children, yet the only people who are sexualising our children are the viewers who watch them and think they are sexy. In reality, our little girls can mostly be found in velour tracksuits and handmade frilly dresses, so I would suggest you should stop filming little girls dancing if you are finding that this is turning on your viewers.

After watching the last series of your 'documentary' it finally hit me why I was so unlucky in love. I would have been married by now, if only I had known that the key to a women's heart was to sexually assault her using a gypsy courting ritual called 'grabbing'. I asked my brother if he had grabbed his wife, but it turned out he had just asked her out on a date instead. It appears that in reality, no one actually knows what grabbing is, in fact Gypsy and Traveller men actually have a lot of respect for their women after all.

Speaking of love, I've been to many Gypsy and Traveller weddings, but I'm yet to attend a wedding where the bride's dress weighs more than my whole family. Don't get me wrong, I've seen some huge dresses but there is something you need to know: Thelma Madine is lying to you, she's not our dressmaker of choice. In fact, I’m kind of embarrassed for her because no one actually knows who she is and everything she says about us is actually untrue. Basically, you've been conned, so I suggest you find a new spokesperson for the Gypsy and Traveller communities, such as an actual Gypsy or Traveller like my Baba (grandma), she makes some right nice clothes you know.

It's hardly surprising that people are watching your 'documentary' purely to laugh at us, because even I laugh at the monstrosities that Thelma Madine creates. It is a shame that you haven’t featured any Gypsy or Traveller designers because the clothing that we were actually more traditionally known for before your 'documentary', is actually far more interesting than amusing. Last year, Leeds University Union thought it would be okay to laugh at the Gypsy and Traveller communities by hosting a Big Fat Gypsy Weddings fancy dress party. While the union holds events throughout the year to celebrate other ethnic minorities, you're 'documentary' encouraged them to incite ethnic hatred. You'll be pleased to know that due to complaints from yours truly and friends, the event was shelved.

You seem to have misunderstood what a documentary about Gypsies should entail. Gypsies (as in Romany Gypsies that are completely different to Irish Travellers, that are like totally not Irish Travellers at all, get it?) are Europe's largest and most deprived ethnic minority. The majority of Romani people have never been to Rathkeale, let alone own houses there. In fact, most live in great poverty and I suggest you read my previous blogs. We suffer from discrimination on a daily basis and our human rights have historically been violated, yet you deem it acceptable to broadcast a misleading 'documentary' that has been made not to raise awareness of our plight but for entertainment. We are not a joke, we are human beings and your work of fiction is only strengthening stereotypes and ignorance.

Unlike those who star in your 'documentary' I am not after 5 minutes of fame, but what I am asking for, is for you to put humans above ratings. You can't ignore us forever.

Yours sincerely,

Pip

PipopotamusFrom Pipopotamus

Comments   

 
#1 RE: A big fat Romany open letter to Channel FourChristiane 2012-02-21 19:47
Thank you! I got bullied so much at my job when the last series was on for pointing out that this has nothing to do with Romani and Sintu culture. This was one of the reason I lost my job. I come from Germany and no one uses the old communal word for Romani and Sintu anymore - it is considered abusive (equal to the N word) and with view what the Nazis did to them, wholly unacceptable in any modern context unless it is quote of a historical source. I was shocked to hear it as part of a program title. I was even more shocked that no one spoke up. I was speechless when people told me I didn't get it. The people who made this program shld bein court.
 
 
#2 RE: A big fat Romany open letter to Channel FourMarienna 2012-02-21 19:54
I remember watching the first 20 minutes of the first episode of season 1, assuming it that it would be a documentary on Romany culture. Nasty shock. So glad to see Counterfire covering this issue, I've been growling at the adverts on the tube for weeks.

Channel 4: senseless, tactless, tasteless, clueless... but apparently not classless.

I look forward to seeing what they had to say for themselves! In the meantime, great letter :)
 
 
#3 RE: A big fat Romany open letter to Channel FourFaduma 2012-02-22 09:50
This is Channel 4s response- http://www.channel4.com/4viewers/editors-blog/an-open-letter-to-pipogypopotamus
 
 
#4 RE: A big fat Romany open letter to Channel FourPete 2012-02-22 13:11
Great letter, but a more powerful response from C4 I have to say, who seem to have taken a balanced view. Hipo's take is purely Romani in perspective which means that far from the programme being a con, it shows a broader gypsy/traveller dynamic that even Hipo clearly is unaware of. Good provocative stuff!
 
 
#5 Big Fat Romany open letter to C4Maggie 2012-02-22 16:06
Did you read Hipo's letter Pete - it was not PURELY Romany in perspective at all. The C4 programme is certainly provocative, but not in a good way - rather than showing 'a broader gypsy/traveller dynamic' as you suggest, it seems to show only a very narrow one.
 
 
#6 RE: A big fat Romany open letter to Channel FourKateoooooooooooooooh 2012-02-22 17:07
Well said Pip! Thank you for educating everyone. I have steered away from the whole series after watching My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding - the first programme. Your blog clarified it's trash telly. And I agree human beings are not jokes! Good on you for speaking out to Leeds Uni Union and good that they saw sense. Channel 4: hmmmmmmm? OK, Nick Hornby argues strongly that Irish Travellers and Romany people were consulted... hmmmm ... how wide a range of views and experiences?
 

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