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‘Undateables' is back -and still gets it all wrong / 10 January 2013

Channel 4’s ‘Undateables’ goes into season two. ‘Undateables’, despite its title, wants to come across as politically correct, respectful, sympathetic – treating its ‘extraordinary singletons’ as if they were regular folks. But, it seems to suggest to an assumed nondisabled audience, really disabled people are not the same as everyone else. Instead of including them in a regular dating show or of deeming some nondisabled people as ‘undateable’ too, we need a special one for their ‘special needs’. There are no LGBT people in ‘Undateables’ either, so far. That would be a little too much diversity, wouldn’t it?

Undateables does nothing to diminish stereotypes that exist around disabled people: Candidates are often portrayed as wonderful supercrips, overcoming their disability – in the case of Brent, who has Tourettes, the show even suggests that falling in love with his date Lizzie will make Brent’s Tourette disappear. No pressure then, Lizzie. Does this mean that my fiancé does not love me enough, because I am still in a wheelchair despite a wonderful 19-month relationship? Maybe if Bob and I try harder, we can make my Spina Bifida go away!

In other cases, disabled people are portrayed as lonely, desperate and overeager to find that ‘special someone’, often pushed by their mum. I have yet to see another dating show where mums are as ubiquitous as in this one. Of course many disabled people have special bonds with their parents because they often function as carers, too, especially during childhood. But all candidates are over the age of twenty, and personally I think it would not hurt to show friends, brothers, sisters or personal assistants of the candidates too. And fathers.

One mum sends her daughter off to a blind date, and tells the camera: ‘I can’t wait to see her in a wedding dress!’ (again, no pressure, honey!), while another one prepares a list of questions for her son to ask his date and goes with him to a speed dating event.  Personally, I find this all a bit creepy, especially as Channel 4 does not tell us why the mums are there – do the benefits cuts mean the candidates can’t afford PAs? Were the candidates excluded during their education and on their job search and thus found it difficult to form friendships?

None of the discrimination disabled people face daily is addressed, apart from the fact that they can’t seem to find a partner. But wait, even that truth is a lie: one candidate has already had 17 girlfriends; another has just been in a long-term relationship that lasted several years.

Why does Channel 4 tell us that dating is so hard for these ‘extraordinary singletons’? Because that’s going to make all the truly undateable nondisabled people who like to watch this load of rubbish feel way better. If even THESE people can go on dates, you can do it too! Look, how they’re trying, isn’t it inspiring? For disabled people, this show only repeats all the myths the media keeps already feeding them on a daily basis, until they end up internalizing them.

I still remember with horror the girl in a wheelchair from last season who rejected a lovely guy, just because he was disabled, too, and she didn’t want a disabled boyfriend. Not exactly Crip Pride we see here, that’s for sure.

Just because Sam Wollaston from the Guardian says that the show is not exploitative; is ‘sensible, sensitive and kind’ - does not mean it is. It just means that that chap is falling for the inspiration porn for non-disabled people, which Undateables is. Of the worst kind.

Keywords: 21 21,atos protest,attitudes,avebury,channel 4,disability representation,disability sexuality,mark gertler,media representation