Thursday, 5 April 2012


Here’s the thing: I don’t often watch documentaries about people with disabilities. Until now, I’ve never really thought about why. It may be because I’m afraid of being hypocritical.

My daughter has Prader-Willi Syndrome, but first and foremost she’s my daughter. It’s part of her and it’s the way she is. As a family we learned to accept it and live our lives. I would hate for her to be judged or laughed at because of PWS. 

So when there’s a TV programme featuring a disabled person, I get a little defensive. Are they going to be treated with respect by the programme-makers? Are they going to be a figure of fun, an oddity, someone ‘other’ served up to fascinate or titillate? 

Of course, here’s where the hyprocrisy sets in. Sometimes, living with someone with a disability is funny. Their obsessions, or idiosyncrasies can make you laugh as well as cry.

And I’ll relate those moments to friends and family, and hell, to anyone who stumbles across this blog. But when I do this, am I not serving my girl up as ‘entertainment’ in the same way?

It’s Channel 4’s The Undateables that’s set me thinking about this. The first show in a documentary series following several people with a range of disabilities who have signed up to a dating agency was aired on Tuesday night. The 'subjects' are interviewed about their quest to find love, and the film crew follows them on their dates. 

I caught up with the show on 4OD today, having originally avoided it after seeing a barrage of tweets on Twitter containing the hashtag #undateables. They scared me off, ranging, as they often do, from kind, and well-meaning, to patronising, insulting and hateful.

I’m still undecided about it. I think it had a good heart. And yet on the other hand, this annoying voice from the pitch meeting kept popping into my head saying: "Yeah, look, it's, like, people going through exactly the same emotions as other lonely people looking for love, and getting all nervous and stressed about a date, only, like, more so, yeah, because they're, like, disabled."

However, my opinion kept flip-flopping.

There were two moments that stayed with me.

The first involved Luke, who had Tourette’s, and was warm and funny, with good social skills (apart from his loud tics, which included the phrase: “I thought she was a lovely girl.....f*cking slag.”) The look he gave immediately after he said this was quite profound. With just the raising of an eyebrow, you could see that he knew it was funny, he knew why it was funny, and yet at the same time you could see that after 10 years of this happening any time he got near a girl he liked, it really wasn’t funny at all.

The second came from Richard, who had Asperger's. I saw some of my daughter in him. He was very set in his ways and got agitated when things didn't go exactly to plan. He was able to chat and interact with the cameraman and with even with his date, but his conversations and interactions were slightly off-kilter. He was wired differently. He described the effect of unexpected changes on his  'Asperger's mind': it would only bend so far before it would snap.

So how did The Undateables make me feel about my daughter? 

She's 13. She’s started talking about how she’d like to get married. I’m gripped by fear when I think about the practicalities of her having a boyfriend, let alone the emotional aspects.

But it would be wonderful for her to find love. Like the parents featured in this programme, and - let’s face it - like anyone’s parents, the main thing you want in life is for your child to be happy. 

So I’m going to watch next week’s episode, and meet a few more of the #undateables. And maybe it will do some good and open a few people’s eyes up to the fact that people with disabilities are different from us and yet just the same as us.

Two things, though. I can’t bear that plinky plonky ‘comedy’ melody used on the soundtrack. This isn’t exclusive to documentaries on disabilities, but it adds a little note, or a few little notes, of condescension.

And The Undateables? I know they need a snappy title, but it was too flippant and cruel for the show that followed it. Mind you, I can’t think of anything particularly clever, or effective.

Maybe Dateability, instead? You see, that right there, is why I’m not a TV producer.

Video is The Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Date With The Night

1 comment:

  1. I have to say that programs like that are in my opinion, exactly what you feared. They are TV tabloid journalism, offering up anyone who is outside the perceived norm, as entertainment. It brings the traveling circus with the Bearded Lady into the homes of the real failures in our society, the puny minded sheep who are happy to point & poke fun at someone who has to live amongst pricks like them on a daily basis. It's good that you searched your soul to see the good intentions behind the program but you are a better person than I because i wouldn't give such Hyenas the time of day. xx