Channel 4 series blamed for backlash against Travellers
Wednesday 22 February 2012
Millions have tuned in to see the extravagant dresses, glow-in-the-dark wedding cakes and over-enthusiastic male suitors.
But while Big Fat Gypsy Weddings has been a ratings winner for Channel 4, many in Britain's traveller community have complained that the show fuels discrimination and presents an inaccurate portrayal of their lives.
That criticism had been relatively muted until 17-year-old Pip McKenzie wrote an open letter to the broadcaster to express his disapproval. "We are not a joke, we are human beings and your work of fiction is only strengthening stereotypes and ignorance," he wrote.
Due to the show, Pip says he has been attacked, while his 12-year-old cousin was beaten up by girls calling her a prostitute. "I am sick of casual racism towards Gypsies and Travellers being tolerated," he told The Independent.
Pip's letter received over 50,000 hits online in under two days and many others have since spoken out against the show. Irish Traveller Christine Cawley, from London, said: "The series does not show the true lives of Gypsies or Irish Travellers. My daughter had to leave school because of being called names when the programmes were going out."
While the show focuses on a few wealthy individuals, the Gypsy and Traveller community is one of the most deprived groups in Britain, with a life expectancy 12 years below the national average. Child mortality is high, literacy extremely low. The show was recently criticised for a billboard campaign that used images of children and the slogan: "Bigger. Fatter. Gypsier." Campaigners complained the use of the word "gypsier" was "derogatory and demeaning", and the show's sponsor, Honda, expressed concerns.
A spokesman for the Irish Traveller Movement said they had tried to make Channel 4 aware of their concerns. "At a meeting, we introduced them to a young Irish Traveller girl who was bullied as a result of Big Fat Gypsy Weddings. There's lots of bullying going on, because a lot of young kids watch these shows."
Such bullying is an extra deterrent for a community which has a difficult relationship with schools – 25 per cent of Gypsy children are not enrolled in education.
Julie Gorman, 30, is of Irish Traveller descent, and works helping Traveller children in County Durham. She said the show has had an economic impact: "People have stopped wanting Gypsies to work for them. The big weddings make them think Gypsies are loaded, so they must be getting ripped off."
A Channel 4 spokeswoman said: "We have strict protocols for any filming and absolutely refute any allegation the production team behaved inappropriately."
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