In the last couple of weeks I have been completely obsessed with the TLC show My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding.
The show covers the lavish weddings and other celebrations of American Gypsies, who are ethnically Romanichal, a subset of Romani. The TLC show is a spinoff of the British, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.
The lavish parties and dresses themselves make the show seriously addictive. However, added to this is the extreme shock of a culture so different from my own.
The Romanichal culture depicted in the show is bizarre: the show focuses on young girls and guys that look like they stepped right out of Jersey Shore: scantily clad girls with fake tans, boys with blown out and spiked hair. Yet, their culture is extremely conservative: girls marry young and do not kiss their husband until their wedding ceremony, and if a girl is considered to be "unclean," she is no longer desirable for marriage.
The society also has extreme gender roles: men work, women stay at home and clean. In an episode I watched earlier this week: Sondra Celli, the Boston-based designer who makes all the dresses featured on the show, makes a frank aside about the wedding of a 17-year-old: "Today was [the bride's] big dream wedding. Tomorrow will become Gypsy reality. She'll go home to clean and cook and take care of her husband, and raising Gypsy babies."
Of course, there's already been some backlash against the show. One writer, Oksana Marafioti, an American Gypsy herself, writes:
"Being a Romani isn’t a way of life or a cult. We aren’t Gypsy by choice or calling. No one can decide to become a Gypsy one day. We are a race of close to 10 million, with a culture that spans centuries and across continents. It is one thing to present a willing group of people in a negative light, but quite another to represent an entire race of people as a niche stereotype."
Although reality television practically makes its business out of niche stereotypes, reading Marafioti's article made me feel guilty for liking the show. I know I'll keep watching, but be sure to keep in mind that not all Gypsy people are the way they show portrays them. Just everyone in New Jersey isn't like the cast of Jersey Shore.
At first glance, maybe I am so addicted to the show because their lifestyle is so different from my own. On the other hand, a lot of girls, deep down inside, want to dress up in a pink Barbie gown covered in crystals. Maybe we're not so different after all.