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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



1 May 2013

An interesting blog, thank you, but as someone who's watched several episodes, I'm not sure I agree with everything you say. Taking one of your first points, about Brent's Tourettes - the programme made it clear that, for him, the confidence that comes from a successful relationship lessens his symptoms. There was no suggestion that getting a girlfriend/boyfriend would generically cure any disability. Also, I have seen sisters/friends (I can't remember which) in at least one segment. And I think it's fair to say, at least in some cases, that a disability can make it harder to find a date (I'm thinking specifically of the woman whose obsessive-compulsive disorder mean she didn't want to be touched - clearly many people would find it difficult to cope with that in a romantic relationship). I personally think the programme-makers have done a good job at raising awareness of and exposure to different disabilities, and I'd hope that such non-sensationalised coverage in mainstream media would only serve to minimise prejudice and misunderstanding.

Kev Towner

23 January 2013

"Undateables does nothing to diminish steotpyes that exist around Disabled people" - did anyone seriously believe it would then?

Nina Mühlemann

15 January 2013

Hi Joanie,

thank you very much for taking the time to comment (and to read).

Your and Sarah's experience with participating in Undateables seems to be a much happier one than mine watching it, and I'm glad for it.

It's great that the show was such a good experience for you. All the best.

Joanie Scott

14 January 2013

I am that mother :) Actually, if you watch it again, I said "I'm not sure how she will cope with saying the vows, if she did get married". Sarah's disability if far greater than was shown in the programme, although they were very sensitive to Sarah's needs and tried to find out as much about aphasia as possible. Apart from speech, aphasia can affect reading and writing, telling the time, numbers and understanding money.

The programme will not change the world, or everyone's perceptions of disabled people (maybe some) - we have had a lot of feedback from people who were unaware that younger people can have strokes, and others who have communication problems themselves and were pleased that Channel 4 had included Sarah in the programme.

I know for a fact that all the young people taking part enjoyed it and thought they were treated well. Sarah made her own decision to appear and it has helped her self confidence.

Nina Mühlemann

11 January 2013

Thanks for your lovely comment, Merry. I tweeted the link of the article with the 'undateables' hashtag, so C4 might well have seen it ;)

Merry Cross

11 January 2013

Excellent piece Nina - I really can't bring myself to watch ever again. I could only have dismissed it as a modern peep show, but you have managed to stomach thinking about it enough to provide a really accurate analysis of everything that's wrong with it.

Have you sent a copy to C4? If not, why not?!!! I'll be reading it out on my show (Make Yourself Heard on next Tuesday).

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