After several weeks of waiting, The Undateables has begun. At a minimum, it was a nice chance to see the programme we’d been complaining about.
On Monday, I previewed the series for the Guardian. I wrote:
“…for the most part the show is done beautifully. Despite a voiceover that sometimes verges on patronising (“First EVER date!”), when those involved are left to speak for themselves we get an honest, personal depiction of what are universal experiences. This seems to be the point the show is simultaneously missing and making. Viewers are told from the opening that they’re about to see a group of “extraordinary singletons” when in fact we see the opposite: nine single people who happen to have a disability… Overall…it’s not the differences but the similarities you’re left with: human beings who want companionship and physical affection. Sometimes funny, sometimes aching, it doesn’t once say disability and dating don’t quite fit.”
For what it’s worth, after a second viewing my opinion’s unchanged. In direct contrast to the marketing, the show was a touching, funny, honest portrayal of dating with a disability – both in showing the issues specific to disabled people and the ones, from lack of chemistry to awkward silences, general to everyone.
Like any marginalised group, many people with a disability will naturally have strong feelings when a programme emerges that (at least tacitly) seeks to represent them. I maintain my right to simultaneously object to being treated as if I’m part of a homogenous group whilst taking great interest in how ‘I’m’ being depicted.
If we’re interested in what The Undateables is going to do for social attitudes towards disability and relationships though then the focus should be less on the reaction of people with disabilities and more on those without. These are the people who have little or no experience of disability other than what the media presents them with. These are the people who, in the post-mortem of another dalliance of ‘mainstream television does disability’, I’d like to pay attention to.
Last night, within minutes of airing, #undateables was trending. It featured the full spectrum of stereotypes and a couple of new ones for good measure.
What follows is my highly unscientific sample of the Twitter reaction:
The ‘Disabled people are like puppies with less hair’ tweet
“Bless the people on #undateables”
The ‘Thank Christ they’re here to make me feel better about myself’ tweet
“I wanna meet someone with tourettes from watching #Undateables. Really feel sorry for them…”
“Just watched the #undateables and I feel so sorry for themmm! “
The ‘Thank Christ they’re here to make me feel temporarily bad about myself’ tweet
“Aww .. I moan cos my ass looks fat or my hair has not gone right.. And them poor fuckers have never had a date .. #selfish #undateables
The ‘Don’t get left on the shelf multiplied by 83 because you’re a cripple’ tweet
“Couldn’t help but feel the girl on the #undateables was being a bit too picky. The phrase “beggars can’t be choosers” comes to mind…
The ‘Point and Laugh’ tweet
“Anyone watch #undateables last nite??? Funny as fuck!! #weirdpeopleinthisworld”
The ‘Look everyone! I just thought of a pun’ tweet
“#Undateables pennys date was wheely good ”
The ‘Well-meaning but completely misses the point’ tweet
“”#Undateables” is trending. I know I’m shallow, but that’s mean. EVERYBODY can find love, no matter how odd they are.”
“I hope u people laughing at the #undateables never have the misfortune to have a child with similar problems yourself !!!”
The ‘Misogynist finds any excuse to be a Misogynist’ tweet
“”She seems like a really nice girl…Fucking slag!”. The Tourettes fella has just summed up my last relationship in 1 sentence #undateables”
The ‘Undateables is now a word’ tweet
“Girls who smoke cigs #Undateables”
“#undateables ANY man tht has spent SO MUCH time in jail he done lost his mind & tlks abt conspiracy plots & hides food like he still in”
The ‘back handed compliment to Channel Four’ tweet
“Seems that #ch4 #undateables wasn’t the insulting voyeuristic nonsense suggested by trailer”
The ‘random insult’ tweet
“The little dwarf thinks she looks like Cheryl Cole, silly stuck up dwarf #Undateables”
The ‘restores faith in humanity’ tweet
“So in the end I learned a lot about several conditions and was rooting for Richard and Luke. Well done C4 #undateables”