Category Archives: Television

The Undateables

In the couple of weeks before Valentine’s Day thoughts of love, relationships and finding ‘the one’ plague our brains, our shops and our television screens.

And so, in the run up to the fourteenth, Channel 4 has launched the second series, of its controversially named documentary, The Undateables, which details the love lives of people suffering from disabilities. The first series was launched last spring and was a big hit, attracting an average audience of more than three million, making it one of Channel 4’s highest-rating shows of last year. However, it received much criticism with the advertising watchdog receiving complaints that it was offensive towards disabled people and encouraged stereotyping and bullying. Despite that, the Advertising Standards Authority cleared it of any breach of the advertising code- allowing it to return in January of this year.

Although there has been nothing proved technically wrong with the documentary, there is something somewhat ethically challenging about sitting down to watch a documentary, that arguably makes a spectacle of the autistic, Tourette’s syndrome sufferers, and others suffering from disabilities, attempting to find love.  Journalist, Sharon Brennan criticised the show heavily claiming that it highlighted differences between those who have disabilities and those who don’t and pointed out that the title The Undateables was incredibly offensive to those suffering from a disability.

There is also the added moral complication that The Undateables is, without a doubt, entertaining. It would not receive the ratings it does if it were not so. Let’s face it, as a television audience; we are not merely satisfied by challenges to our perceptions or new information, we need something that appeals to our desire to be entertained. For example, in the first episode of the second series, it is difficult not to giggle as autistic Michael practices for his date with his mother. And it is hard not to shed a tear in the second episode when Raymond, who suffers from learning disability, invests all of his time and effort into a date for it to fail completely. All the while, pangs of guilt are plaguing you for laughing or sighing or cringing at the expense of these people.

However, The Undateables is saved as not just a legitimate but also a good, documentary through the fact that audiences are left at the end of each episode, not with thoughts of the differences between themselves and the participants on the documentary, but rather with the realisation of the similarities. They are human beings who, like everyone else, desire companionship and physical affection. The show conveys that it is not so much the disability that affects the participants’ love lives but more the lack of confidence that those disabilities bring about. And, rather surprisingly, you find yourself seeing a lot of your own insecurities in their plights to find ‘the one’. The show never suggests that disabilities and dating don’t mix. It conveys what everyone is already aware of- that dating is an incredibly difficult game to play for anyone.

Although many will remain cynical and judgemental about the show, largely due to its title and branding, those who make the decision to watch an episode may find themselves pleasantly surprised. The description ‘undateable’ is not one which takes over the documentary- it was simply a way for Channel 4 to strike a controversial chord with audiences in order to generate hype and interest. The show itself challenges preconceptions of disabilities rather than entrenching them, leaves audiences with feelings of similarities, not differences, and thoughts of encouragement, not pity.

-Claire Flynn

-Image courtesy of Lwp Kommunikáció (https://www.flickr.com/photos/lwpkommunikacio/)

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Meet the Super Humans

So the London Olympic Games have finished leaving most of us who aren’t particularly fond of football with a rather nasty sporting void in our lives. But fear not for a remedy is arriving tonight in the form of the London 2012 Paralympics.

Great Britain performed incredibly well at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics, finishing second overall. This year they aim to at least match their efforts of four years ago.

And with several extraordinary athletes taking part, both from Great Britain and from the rest of the world this promises to be as much of a nail-biting, air-punching, tear-shedding Games as the Olympics was. The Paralympians, with their stories and their struggles, will capture your hearts just as much as, if not more, than our Olympic champions did.

This year the Paralympic broadcasting flame has been handed to Channel 4 and they have wasted no energy in attempting to promote the games as much as possible- with adverts plastering our television screens featuring the cheeky slogan ‘Thanks for the warm-up’. These and the other adverts have been incredibly successful in grabbing public attention and creating an air of excitement for the Games.

Channel 4 have also broadcast several shows to build up to the Games, such as an evening show hosted by Jon Snow, in which he is joined by celebrities and looks into the Games and the stories of various participating athletes. And they have even pimped out their website with Paralympic news and videos of some of the British athletes, describing their stories and what they want to achieve

There is no doubt about it the Channel 4 promotion of the Paralympics has brought the Games up from the Olympics’ little brother to an event of great sporting importance in its own right.

However, would it really be Channel 4 if there were no element of controversy, no outrage, no crossing the line of acceptable broadcasting at some stage? No it would not; I’m fairly certain we are all aware of the controversial programming choices – from that episode of Brass Eye to a live autopsy – of Channel 4 in the past.

This time Channel 4 has achieved the provocation of public uproar through I’m Spazticus. The name alone is uncomfortably awkward- let alone the television show. It is a typical prank show with secret cameras filming the unsuspecting victims- the difference is that the people playing the pranks are those with disabilities. The sketch show features a blind man convincing members of the public to talk to his “talking” guide dog, a dwarf acting as a guide dog, an amputee with various attachments for his missing arm and people being asked to rate the pranksters in order of which disability they would like least.

The issue is Channel 4 has placed I’m Spazticus in the official Paralympics broadcasting sector. It somehow does not seem appropriate to lump one of the greatest sporting events in the world with some tricksters on a show that is controversial to say the least. It is a detriment to those Paralympians that the channel has worked so hard to promote, even describing them as ‘super-human’.

I’m Spazticus is a major blip in the promotion of the Paralympic Games. However, it is only one blip. Channel 4 have still created an incredible build up and, judging from the team they have put together, the actual Games will be brought to the public in just as much style.

So forget about the Olympics, dodgy prank shows, and anything else you’ve been watching recently. The Paralympics are here, and we are doubtless to see some incredible feats of athleticism in the next few weeks from these ‘super humans’.

-Claire Flynn

-Image courtesy of Craig Morey (https://www.flickr.com/photos/pixelthing/)