Tonight Channel 4 aired the first episode of a new series about disabled people, with various conditions, who join a dating agency looking for love. We then follow them on their subsequent dates. It’s controversial because of its name – Undatables – and because of the advertising campaign leading up to tonight’s show. It’s already caused a lot of discussion, online and amongst my friends.
Channel 4 argued that the billboards with ‘Undatables’ plastered above pictures of six people with obvious disabilities were referring to and challenging one of society’s preconceptions. This maybe the case if you spend three weeks dissecting it in a university seminar group – but pass it on the bus and there’s only one message: Disability = Undateable
I watched the show with Bunny and as the titles sequence began we agreed to say ‘Charming’ every time someone said something offensive. We weren’t going to be offended by the person with Tourettes swearing but we would be by the attitudes to disability and sexuality we were anticipating. It was very ‘Charming’ for the first few minutes with neither the tone of the narration nor the quality of the filmmaking living up to Channel 4’s promise to challenge any preconceptions at all.
The main failure from my perspective was how superficially each person’s experiences were covered. I would’ve liked to hear their voices coming through more strongly, but I felt they were drowned out by a patronising narrator, an over-keen dating agency manager, and assumptions about what the challenges of dating someone with a disability might actually be.
Attitudes around disability and sex are rarely discussed on TV. This programme could have been a powerful platform for disabled people to talk about sex and their experiences – a platform that’s certainly needed. A poll carried out by the Observer in 2008 found that 70% of people questioned said they would not have sex with a disabled person. It seems that the idea that there’s something wrong with fancying or dating a disabled person is deeply rooted in our culture. After my appearance on Stephen Fry’s Planet Word a while ago there were several comments on the You Tube clip asking, “Is it wrong that I find the Tourettes girl attractive?”
I’ve known about Undatables for a while now, mainly because I was asked if I’d be in it. I refused, principally because I wasn’t sold on the concept or the name. Having a disability can present additional practical and emotional challenges to dating, but I’m not single because I have Tourettes: I’m single because I’m amazingly busy, thirty and having to wait for a divorcee to come along. Charming!