Reality Bites

Reality Bites: My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding

For a country that likes to crow about how great we are for throwing off the yoke of British oppression, we sure like to steal a lot of their shit.

I don't mean "steal" in the, well, Gypsy sense. But The "Learning" Channel's (please make air quotes every time you say the network's name) latest foray into reality grotesquerie is a rather faithful domestic version of Channel Four's My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, the show that celebrated British Romani Gypsy and Irish Traveller culture by filming them in all their drunken, mullet-headed glory.

Jesus, who *wouldn't* want an American version of that?

Over on this side of the pond, our only real contact with Gypsies probably comes from that videotape of that Traveller woman beating the crap out of her kid in a Kohl's parking lot. Oh, and the aforementioned Fleetwood Mac song. Fools! The Gypsies on My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding aren't Irish, they're Romani, of Eastern European extraction. This makes a tremendous difference that isn't readily apparent at all, honestly.

I gotta admit, from the intros to the series premiere ("Virgin Gypsy Brides"), it's a little difficult to distinguish your average Romani from your typical trailer park denizen. They both enjoy gimme caps, makeup that would give Henry Hill's wife pause, and getting drunk and whaling on each another. The difference, we're told, is the sense of "community" that bonds these immigrants who seem to have had no problem embracing Americans' baser values.

Though they've certainly added their own sense

The fabled Romani insularity serves one well when you're talking about wedding dresses festooned with fake fur and Christmas lights. It also serves to highlight the most obvious apparent discrepancy within the community: how these girls -- who dress like mid-range prostitutes and seem to enjoy spontaneously simulating lap dances -- are virgins ("I want something new, I don't want something used," states Michael, the Gypsy Pauly D).

Seventeen-year-old Shyanne is engaged to this PlayStation-playing Prince Charming, who proposed via texted Ring Pop. They've given dressmaker to the cubic zirconia stars Sondra Celli four days to create Shyanne's dress, complete with rhinestone bedazzling, electric pink piping, and a 30-foot train. Happily, Shyanne is satisfied with the results, because you know what the Gypsies do to those who displease them.

That's right: werewolf curse.

Meanwhile, Hope is turning 15 and throwing a party, which we in Texas might refer to as a quinceañera but that mom Moncella refuses to acknowledge as a coming-out occasion. Sondra is once again enlisted to create the party dress, which should be sort of revealing, but not too much, because then these poor girls might have the slightest clue of what awaits them on their wedding night, and after.

Is this even possible? These kids aren't Amish, for crying out loud. Every one of them seems as buried in their iPhones as every other American teenager. They have to have some idea what awaits them on their wedding night, right?

Then again, maybe ignorance of what it would be like to pork one of these spiky-headed nimrods is a blessing of sorts. I'm not stereotyping -- these guys make the Situation and Ronnie look like pikers (pikeys?). Hope ends up falling for the slightly older Cole, and there's some brief question about the two of them running off, but she ultimately decides against it. While sitting with her friends on a swing set. Excuse me a minute, my right hand is refusing to type anymore and is now actively trying to strangle me.

What exactly about any of this is "Gypsy" in nature? Is it solely because they can all claim vague ancestry dating back a couple hundred years to the Old Country? Is it "Gypsy" that none of the fathers apparently live with their families or provide any visible means of support? Is it "Gypsy" to allow your sons to hustle any likely pair of boobs outside the mall but insist your daughters not even so much as kiss a boy until their wedding day? Is it "Gypsy" to not recognize the connection between these two things?

And really, who cares? Not TLC, who gets to soak up more advertising revenue by producing another trainwreck of humanity, and not we the viewers, who are gifted with yet another opportunity to point and laugh at those more disadvantaged than us.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar