I'm not much of a reality TV watcher, but the constant onslaught of teasers and trailers for My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding tempted me like the smell of baked bread wafting out of an Annie’s pretzel mall kiosk.
For years I was fascinated by the traveling gypsy caravan communities perched alongside Irish roadways. The gypsies selling us oils and scarves on the cobblestone walkways were an exotic delicacy in the sea of pale people.
Thanks to the good folks at The Learning Channel (TLC), I was about to gain access into the mysterious shadow of Irish culture known as the traveler people.
Mind you, travelers was not the first name I heard to describe these people -- tinkers and knackers were more like it, with these nouns usually prefaced by the word “f***in’” thrown in for good measure.
One mild-mannered uncle on my dad’s side grips the steering wheel hard and spits curse words every time he passes the new government housing in the section of Tuam where the travelers live.
“Faith’n they’re a fair bit nicer than the house I broke my back to build,” he’d shout in disgust. I have seen firsthand the mounds of trash they left on our family’s fields when someone encouraged them to move on, and though there was never proof, I have heard friends and family blame them for every petty crime in the bog.
Of course, these bile-tinged accusations only added to the curiosity I had when I tuned into the first episode of Wedding. Like all television in this programming genre, the camera casts a wide-eye on white trash playing into their stereotypes for the pleasure of the film crew.
An eight year-old little girl emerges on her Communion day from momma’s trailer with false eyelashes, a spray tan, faux rhinestones along her eyelids, and a taffeta dress so large it has trouble fitting between two parked cars. ______________________
She joins her little prosti-tot friends at the party afterwards, and no girl on the dance floor is over 10 with heels under six inches.
Despite assurances of purity, morality, and spirituality from a self-professed traveler expert on the program, the puddles of flesh spilling out of the tight silk gowns on the big wedding days looked more like a brothel on prom night than a bridal party.
Perceived slights from the macho young men in the trailer park are settled -- where else? -- behind the cement wall at the back of the trailer park in a bare-knuckle brawl that the announcer assures us is a traveler ritual.
The breakout stars of the show are Paddy and Roseanne Doherty, the owners of one trailer park. “Queen Elizabeth has her place, but I swear to God and my babies, this is my Buckingham Palace,” Paddy announces before hopping into his convertible Audi (he gets a new car every six months whether he needs it or not).
A former bare-knuckle boxing champion, Paddy, 52, has painted “PD” on the blacktop in front of his trailer park, a fitting coat of arms for the likes of him if ever there was one.
He is a study in conflicts, a man that cries at his son’s grave while delivering rough justice to anyone administering domestic violence within the comfort of their trailer if it happens to be parked on his land. With his bulging biceps and affinity for sleeveless shirts, he looks like a cross between a juicing Fred Flintstone and The Situation’s Neanderthal ancestor.
“You’d never see a traveling man shopping,” he says without a hint of irony as he lies on a store mattress. The camera pans across the store and finds his wife looking at a white lacquered dining room set that’s so gaudy it would give Elvis Presley vertigo. His purpose is soon clear when it comes time to pay the bill and Paddy takes yer man out back to hammer out a price.
“Even if you give a traveling man a pound off the price, he feels like he got a good deal,” muses Roseanne. With her cottony bleached hair, rhinestone jewels in the shape of a crown on each back pocket and loopy mannerisms, she could easily be the main character in every Loretta Lynn or Judd song.
One recently married bride explains that education is not something that’s regarded in the traveler community. No! Really? Ya don’t say! I kinda figured that out when I saw Irishman Johnny leave his trailer home, hop in a helicopter, ride to his reception and take the ring out of a pouch held in the talons of a trained owl that flies to him.
If he had any education in math, he’d know that money on this costly circus could be put to better use. Oh, I dunno. How about a new set of teeth for the missus?
When Paddy and Roseanne pull up to their son’s grave and she begins to sob uncontrollably while a crowd of travelers drink beer around the grave, your heart goes out to her.
I soon joined her in a cry with the knowledge that I’d never get the three hours back that I wasted watching this marathon of My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding -- nor will I ever recoup the time spent watching the rest of the episodes.