About time I addressed this sure-fire hit from C4 which enjoyed the third documentary of the series last night. I always get excited on Tuesdays that it's on, but actually found myself a bit bored by the end of yesterday's episode, wondering how much more they could say about this particular minority. The constants in each episode have been a repressive gender formation in which female travellers do the housework while the men bring home the bacon, and the hilarity of the tacky weddings of the traveller youth (I mean youth. The girls are all aged between 16-22) - the key joke being the huge, ridiculous, fairytale/Disney/burlesque/sex show dresses.
The dresses sum up the paradox of traveller femininity. The girls are sexually oppressed; forbidden from having pre-marital sex which leads to teenage marriage and such cultural activities as 'grabbing' (females being dragged off by males and coerced - sometimes violently - into giving up kisses). At the same time, the clothes and the dancing and everything else that surrounds adolescent courtship is hyper-sexual and overt. And it's not just adolescents...we've seen tiny little girls bumping and grinding. Imagine Princess Price bogling.
Herein lies the problem. The viewpoint of the audience is clearly imperialistic. In line with a thousand other C4 'documentaries' we are expected to laugh at this economic underclass and their funny ways, and we are encouraged to do so by the ubiquitous 'plinky plonky', pizzicato, comedy-doc music constantly (and tiresomely) used to turn media subjects into laughing stocks.
The other problem is that we've been shown no resistance, no challenge to the overarching sexism of traveller ideology. The closest we've come was last night's Violet-Ann who managed to hold off marriage until 22 through working, and so was granted a longer period of independence before the inevitable role of housewife and mother. Let's hope that Violet-Ann doesn't marry a Violent Man.
But there is no hope really, not according to what C4 are showing us. There's no space for change. Racism has hardened the cultural mores of this group and made them cling on to their difference from settled people. That traveller doctrine is so entrenched makes this rather gloomy to watch. And in the absence of really critical journalism, I'm finding the condescending 'gaze' uncomfortable.
Not that there haven't been jaw dropping moments, like the revelation that 50% of gypsies have a a life expectancy of <50. Now that is something about which questions should be asked. That, and WHAT THE HELL do travellers do with those wedding dresses after the big day? There's no room for them in a caravan! Is there a warehouse somewhere full of gypsy wedding dresses? I need answers!