11 April 2012
Whilst completely unmoved by C4's The Undateables, Richard Downes, is nonetheless interested in the furore that surrounds it.
I have tried to catch up on the first programme in the Undateables series by watching it on Channel 4 On Demand I got about two thirds of the way through when the phone rang and I was pleased to have to turn it off and go collect the non-disabled wife.
The programme struck me as completely facile and relatively boring. I am unlikely to become a follower of the series. However, there is something completely fascinating about the hoo ha that has slowly built up around it especially as C4, it would seem, has had to reposition themselves around their programme on several occassions already.
There seems to be real issues building up about how disability focussed programmes are marketed. I first noted this when I blogged about the poster promoting the Undateables on Responses to this reflected on the superficial content of the programming, personalised tragedy model approaches to disability, disability as freak show and an already hidden history of dating agencies for disabled people.
I noted it again when reviewing We Won't Drop The Baby I gave the programme a positive write up and would still recommend it as worthwhile viewing but also commented on the use of celebrity as a marketing tool. Somehow, someone, somewhere; does not believe that our own stories can stand on their own merits without being given such spins.
In coming to a decision about whether I should stay in to watch the Undateables (you already know that I decided not to and had to catch a flavour of it through an online on demand service) I was aware that Channel 4's TV advert crumbled the prefix 'un' so that it collapsed to read 'nu' dateables. Indicating a little understanding that the title itself was a bone of contention but implying that we as disabled people where not dateable before - something which many of us would say experience tells us different. Not only that but many of us are also able to testify that some dates don't work and some lead to long lasting relationships - a point which Laurence Clark made on The Wright Stuff when yet more celebs pronounced their 'experts opinions' on the programme, regardless of whether they had seen it or not, under a slot called 'Exploitative or Empowering' which was preceded by a quiz which revealed that 70% of people who had responded to it said that they would not have sex with a physically disabled person. Better odds than I bargained for but still positive reinforcement of the idea that we should not do that.
Laurence indicated that the Twitter response to the programme (#undateables) had been very bad indeed. I inspected this for myself and found that I could not share Laurence's opinion. Rather I found tweets that reflected a very confused response to the programme. Had it been worthwhie viewing or not? One question that these tweets raised for me concerned Luke's story. Luke is a Liverpudlian comedian who has Tourettes. Twitter fans gave him the pedestal 'legend' to stand on. Luke was clearly the highlight of the programme. He is one of the 10% of people with Tourettes who use profanities. Listening to these certainly raised laughter within myself. My difficulty is I think I was laughing at him and not with him and I suspected that the programme utilised this on purpose. Mind you, how much harm will that do to a comedian?
I am also wondering why disabled people would put themselves forward for such programmes. Laurence Clark has indicated that levels of control where important with respect to his own participation. I am not sure if Luke or any of the other un/dateables had much control. Channel 4 say that they had seen the programme before it went out and were happy with it. Will this continue? Is it not the case that this was no more than a vanity project for them? Has their vanity been polished and will it be pricked. Certainly Penny seems to be getting a bad press on Twitter. Still, no publicity is bad publicity or is that just as trite and facile an aphorism as this programme was for me?
Still, it is interesting that we are now in a culture whereby programmes are not the only point anymore. Pre-marketing has to be considered as important as does latter responses. If everybody is talking, informing, communicating, then we need to keep tabs on this too as the impact is just as likely to reinforce negative attitudes as it is to foster positive ones.