Trailblazer and author Anthony Price discusses the controversy around Channel 4’s disability and dating series, The Undateables, which has just begun it’s fourth series.
It’s that time of year again when everyone seems to be searching for the one thing we all want in life; a partner, someone we can share our life experiences with.
Everywhere you look it seems that everyone has someone. It’s no different for disabled people; we want that too. Which brings me around to The Undateables, Channel 4’s ground breaking show focusing on the trials and tribulations of disabled daters looking for love. Needless to say, it’s a show that has divided the disabled community right down the middle.
There were those, like myself, who watch the show purely for entertainment purposes and rather enjoy it. As a group, we’re aware of the social implications (something I’ll get on to in a moment), but we tend to ignore those. After all, it’s only a T.V show, one that obviously gets good ratings as it’s in its fourth series. It’s entertaining and voyeuristic. It makes a change to see genuinely disabled people on the telly; something that doesn’t happen very often.
However, like most debates, there are two side to this argument. It seems that for every person that likes The Undateables, there’s someone that doesn’t. This camp sees the show as nothing more than “bear-bating”, a piece of mindless entertainment for the masses at the expense of people who really want to find the most basic of human needs; love.
For these people, the show misses its desired outcome as it’s felt that the majority of people that watch it, for example able bodied people, can’t relate to it on its intended deeper level. The anti-Undateables group feel that the show entertains for the wrong reasons, rather than highlighting a genuine issue for disabled people. It’s a case of negative representation in the form of patronising sympathy.
On the whole, I can see where this group is coming from. I’ve heard many passing conversations about the show, usually in the context of someone being made fun of for their disability, which definitely isn’t the point of the show. In a way, it seems as though the majority of people watch the show to oggle disabled people. Is this the return of the carnival freak show in a more modern, far reaching way?
If anything the aim of the show is the opposite of that. It’s about showing that no mater who you are, we’re all human and can be subject to the same issues in life. Dating is hard for anyone, let alone with the added social barriers of disability on top.
In my opinion, the show entertains because it does highlight an issue and attempts to bring down these social barriers.
Whether it succeeds or not can be debated for hours on end. But at least, if nothing else, it does give disabled people a platform, something that shouldn’t be brushed aside.