By Guy Woolnough, PhD student in Criminology
The recent series “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding” on Channel Four has done a lot to raise the profile of the Gypsy/Traveller/Roma community in Britain and to take reporting of these issues away from prejudice towards balance. The comments on the Channel Four Website are surprisingly positive. Even though some facets of Traveller culture seem very alien and challenging to modern British mores, viewers seem to have responded sympathetically.
My own research has, over the last year, drawn me towards the Traveller community, because in my study of fairs in Victorian England I have frequently found references to Gypsies in the primary sources. The Victorian press invariably used pejorative terms when writing of the Gypsies. One example may suffice to illustrate the point. The Westmorland Gazette reported in October 1871: “This migratory tribe was largely represented (at Brough Hill fair), there being scores of camps along the fair hill, and as many children rolling about in the straw, or playing about outside, as would almost populate a young colony.” The same paper reported, in March 2010: “The detail of a policing strategy to combat crime and anti-social behaviour by Appleby Horse Fair travellers has been revealed at a packed public meeting in Sedbergh.” Which is more racist, the implication that these people might be advantageously dispatched to a remote colony, or the unquestioned equating of Travellers with anti-social behaviour and crime? You might test these statements for yourself by replacing the words “migratory tribe” and “travellers” with “asylum seekers” or some other group of outsiders.
This may explain why I feel positive about the Gypsy Wedding programmes; after at least one hundred and fifty years of negative reporting on Gypsy and Traveller questions, it is delightful to see a programme aimed at the general viewer that aims to be both measured and unprejudiced. It is even more encouraging when the public response is positive.
What do you think? Do you agree with Guy that the public response to the programme was positive? Do you think the programme succeeded in being measured and positive? Do post your comments...