Channel 4 has gotten something of a reputation in recent years for presenting us with the horrifically disfigured and inviting us to gawp and say “ohh err, I’ve never seen a three headed dwarf with a limp before!”. The Undateables (2012-Present) has gotten a lot of criticism from disabled rights campaigners as well as tv critics and the general public but I have to confesses that I’m something of a fan. Why? Well, I suppose you’ll just have to read on. Sorry.
The Undateables is a reality TV show that follows disabled people looking for love through dating agencies, showing us the highs and lows of trying to date with conditions such as dwarfism, autism, Aspergers and Tourettes.
At face value the argument that The Undateables is exploiting disabled people has some merit. The voice over can be condescending, the music exaggerates every awkward moment and the editing makes the participant’s relatively minor faux pas seem like they mentioned the numerous merits of alcohol to George Best’s widow. While I can certainly see why some people point to the series as a modern day freakshow, I don’t think the claim holds up, The Undateables is not a modern day freakshow, Britain’s Got Talent fits that title far better, exploiting the desperate and arrogant and encouraging to laugh at those poor fools…
Yeah, you knew what was coming…
I think the worst that can be said for The Undateables is that it’s patronising, and even then I don’t think that’s totally intentional. Having the voice over raise doubt over whether a person will succeed is nothing new; almost all reality tv shows with a voice-over do this. The only variable is the fact that it’s centered around disabled people and that’s really the only reason it seems so condescending. Another thing that has to be mentioned is the title; The Undateables. Again, taken at face value the title is incredibly offensive. However, one look at the title card goes a long way towards refuting that.
See that cherub? See how it’s shooting the ‘Un’ from ‘Undateables? Yeah, you don’t need a degree in television studies to get the symbolism in that, the show is pitching itself as showing that people perceived as “undateable” are actually completely dateable. I think The Undateables is actually pretty heartwarming and, if anything, it makes me feel better about my chances of finding someone willing to tolerate my numerous and somewhat terrifying quirks. After all, if they have the courage to put themselves out there then so can I. Seeing these people get excited to the point of ecstasy about the possibility of a relationship genuinely does make me feel very good. Hell, I’d say it warmed my heart if there wasn’t a gaping chasm in its place.
I sold it to the Devil for a mediocre Vincent Price impression and a half a tub of Ben and Jerry’s Chunky Monkey Ice Cream
My only real problem with the series is the way some disabilities are portrayed for laughs, especially Autism and Aspergers. These conditions do not make a person stupid or foolish, they simply give them a different outlook on life and a different way of approaching people. The Undateables plays the social differences up for laughs in a way that may well be offensive to those suffering from the condition and certainly seems unfair to me. On the whole though, I think the series is very endearing. Is it going to change societies perception of people with disabilities? Not entirely, but I do think it says something about society that a series like this can be made and be popular. Granted, some aspects of the show’s marketing is exploitative even if the show isn’t. The title, the premise and the often patronising tone of Sally Phillips is absolutely enough to put someone of the show, especially seeing as this is the sort of stuff Channel 4 love to put out, and there is no doubt that the producers went out of their way to make a series that appeared controversial, because controversy equals views. Not that I would ever do that…
In completely unrelated news, be sure to read next week’s post, Elisabeth Bathory: History’s Greatest Beautician?
Overall, I’d say The Undateables is well worth a watch. Is it patronising? Perhaps, but heartwarming, enlightening and inspiring all the same. I sincerely hope nobody is too put off by the inappropriate advertising and providing people have a basic understanding of some of the disabilities failed by the program I see nothing too wrong with it. I highly recommend The Undateables.