The recent ad campaign for The Undatables made me cringe. Terrible television designed to give the public something to laugh at, at someone else’s expense, or so I thought.
However, after tuning in to the Channel 4 fly- on- the- wall documentary about people with varying disabilities as they go through the ups and downs of trying to find love, I found that it offered a little more, even if it still sat a little uncomfortably with me.
I had originally vowed not to watch the show after discovering its premise. However, a friend recommended I did and knowing him to be a smart person, I indulged in what I thought was to be a waste of my free time.
That being said, Channel 4 approached the documentary with sensitivity and maturity that I did not expect. It showed the difficulty
that some people with disabilities face when trying to find love, whilst leaving them with their dignity. The documentary left me entertained and pleasantly surprised about the approach.
However, the show still does not get my blessing. Why? Because the documentary entices audiences who watch the show for the wrong reasons, not always with intention or through fault, but it definitely happens.
There is no doubting that much of its audience tuned in last night to mock what they don’t understand. To laugh at the kid with Torrets, or to giggle at the guy who says things an old age pensioner would say on a date, due to his Autism. Much of the audience last night would be looking for a laugh, that’s certainly the angle Channel 4’s ad campaign took in the lead up to the show.
There were some amusing moments, ones that made you laugh, that wasn’t because you were laughing at them, but when I knew the reason most of the audience tuned in, it began to make me feel very awkward for laughing in the first place.
That of course is not the only reason people watch it. Pity is another driving force.
People pass pity and judgement without really understanding their true differences or the difficulties they face. I am actually guilty of feeling sorry for them myself, wanting to hunt them down and give them a reassuring hug, however, as someone with a disability, I am well aware that these people aren’t after pity and would not thank me for it, but the way these shows are edited, it’s an emotion they force out of you.
These shows whilst claiming to educate people on disabilities whilst sharing insight are somewhat of a false claim. They open the people up to mockery and pity, something they face on day-to day basis, they don’t need that exposure on a national level to help with that.
The lack of education on the disabilities within the show is highlighted by the woman who’s job it was to help disabled people find dates. The feedback for one of the daters was that the other person in question was not interested in a further date, but that she did find him ” super, wicked cool.” Good to know i’m sure, but a rather demeaning and embarrassing thing to say to a 26-year-old, Autism or not.
Of course this is not the only show to broadcast that aims to show difficulties of the disabled, with a view to treating them as equal, only to be seen as achieving the opposite.
BBC3 – a channel that wishes to be Channel 4 with its controversial shows – twice aired shows with the idea that disabled people were as equal as able bodied people. In 2010 it aired Dancing on Wheels, a programme that showed people competing in a ballroom dance competition in wheelchairs (including some celebrities, such as winner, Caroline Flack). Again, this was designed to make disabilities seem equal and almost inspiring. However, they lacked the one key component of dancing is mobility, the one thing an individual in a wheelchair lacks, it seemed like a cruel joke and awkward joke.
Again, the motivation of those watching would not be to basque in the beauty of ballroom dancing in wheelchairs, something not possible, because no one had experienced it before. People were tuning in to laugh and pity.
Not satisfied in the awkwardness of broadcasting a show about mobility with contestants who lacked that very thing, they also aired ”Britains top Model,” a show searching for a model with a difference, the difference being disability. Contestants with Cerebral Palsy, missing limbs and other major disablements.
Again, was this a cruel joke? An industry known for perfection, not even allowing curvier women to feature as they are not viewed as being beautiful enough, yet they were searching for a disabled model, someone far from the perfection the industry has come to expect. It also made uncomfortable viewing as their disabilities didn’t allow them to reach some of the desired positions and poses, bringing with it many tears.
Whilst both channels should maybe receive praise to shed light on issues faced by disabled people, it has the opposite effect. The fact is though, people tune into the shows for the wrong reasons, pity, laughter and intrigue, whilst they seem to fail on educating the audience.
The reasons for shows are admirable in their idea, but t hey have the reverse effect, a damaging effect for people with enough negative stereotypes to deal with, without lazy programming to make it worse, for that reason such shows have a long way to go to be considered ”Super, wicked, cool.”