Does ‘American Gypsies’ Reinforce The Same Stereotypes It Aims To Dismantle?

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On Tuesday, The National Geographic Channel will premiere American Gypsies, which purportedly aims to refute common myths about gypsies. Also known as the Romany people, gypsies are often thought of as exotic nomads who marry as children, are unable to hold down a steady job, and are fortune telling frauds.

American Gypsies focuses on a thriving New York City family-which includes married couple and their five grown sons.

One of the sons, Bobby Johns, said he hopes that the series will tear down common misconceptions about the Romany. But some critics believe the show has failed spectacularly in that regard.

We thought it was important because of all the negative stereotypes out there about Romany, all the misunderstandings, Johns told the Daily News. I'm sure you've heard the old saying, 'The Gypsies are here, they're going to steal your kids.' We've got kids coming out of our ears, we don't need to steal anybody's kids. It's ridiculous, these stereotypes.

Yet according to critics, such as Robert Lloyd of the L.A Times, the reality show is less about tearing down Romany stereotypes and more about reality show fluff. 

Produced by Ralph 'Karate Kid' Macchio, it takes whatever might be enlightening or moving about the subject and crams it into the standardized strictures of what has become the lowest form of television, however much you want to intellectualize your love of 'The Real Housewives of Whatever,' writes Lloyd.

The New York Times also likened American Gypsies to the bottom-of-the-barrel reality programming. Everything... in the series has been trumped up for the cameras, but it is done without wit, insight or anything else that might distinguish 'American Gypsies' from shows with 'Housewives' or 'Jersey' in the title, writes Neil Genzlinger. Yelling for yelling's sake, by Gypsies or anyone else, became tedious years ago.

Based on the New York Post review, the series reinforces two major gypsy stereotypes. First, the family is in the fortune telling' business: Tina, the mother of the five men, insists that when it comes to the Romany, Every woman's a psychic.

Teen marriage also finds its way into the family discussions and onto the screen. There's a specific moment on the series that enforces the culture's underage matrimony stereotype. Tina tells her young granddaughter that she is to become a bride relatively soon.

You're 14.... Two years from now, maybe a year from now, you're going to get married, Tina informs her. 

As the Times points out, this is not the first time reality TV has been accused of exploiting the Romany population. TLC's My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding, portrays over-the-top wedding ceremonies with-in the Romany community. The series is a spin-off of the popular British reality series, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding.

That show was criticized by Seward Darby of The New Republic for being a voyeuristic, stereotypical, judgmental, and shallow depiction of one of the world's most misunderstood and, at times, abused minorities. Unfortunately, it sounds like American Gypsies might be guilty of the same.

American Gypsy premieres on the National Geographic Channel on Tuesday, July 17th.

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