Reality television has exposed many parts of the world that were previously hidden or unknown to society at large. “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding” revealed the lifestyle of the English and Irish gypsy culture. The show ostensibly focused on the outrageous fashions that gypsies often chose for their weddings. The series also showed many realities and misconceptions about gypsy. It also exposed the prejudices that gypsies face in everyday life. I was unaware that they faced such deep, ingrained prejudice on a day to day basis.
TLC decided to film “My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding” and much to my surprise, there are a lot of gypsies in West Virginia. It’s almost impossible to watch this show as a modern woman without cringing a bit. The Romanichal gypsy culture that is featured is very different from the culture most American women are raised within. Even Jim Bob Duggar’s daughters are afforded a bit more freedom than the average gypsy girl. They are expected to marry young, have children and spend their lives obeying their husband.
One cast member stands out a bit. She is Mellie Stanley, one of the Martinsburg, WV sisters who are regularly featured on “My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding”. She is a twice-divorced twenty-three year old who has survived spousal abuse and a lot of disapproval from her community. Mellie is not reserved in any sense of the word but you get the sense that it is the only way she has been able to survive. She is extremely scrappy and has gotten in physical fights on the show. She’s considered a hellion, but she’s been given little education and no career options whatsoever. A third marriage within the culture seems unlikely due to ideals about divorce. She is currently dancing at a strip bar which was probably inevitable.
I am conflicted about this show. Obviously, I am sucked in by the drama and the sparkly clothes. My heart goes out to Mellie because I feel like she is trapped. However, her shenanigans are not going to do much for West Virginia’s reputation. I mostly want to set my television on fire from shame just like every other time someone has brought a camera into the state. Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution featured a child from my hometown who didn’t know the difference between a potato and a tomato. Then, there was the feature length documentary on the Whites. Now, there will be a TLC special focusing on Mellie and her other sisters. It is called “The Stanley Sisters” and premiers on July 1st. They might make it a series. I am confident the series will not feature any of the doctors, lawyers, teachers or perfectly reasonable and intelligent people that live in West Virginia.The show will be yet another facepalm for the state and it won’t do a thing to improve its image or reduce the numbers of jokes that I will have to endure.