Dollop 39 – Stephen Hawking vs The Undateables

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Sometimes ignorance is bliss, and sometimes I take pride in being ignorant about certain things. I am happy about the fact that I don’t know the names of any of the contestants of the most recent series of X Factor, let alone who won it. I’d be hard pushed to give you a handful of names from previous series, although a few names have unfortunately managed to seep into my consciousness: Jedward, Leona Lewis, Susan Boyle … er … that’s not much of a handful really; except for the Susan Boyl element. Hahaha, that was a joke about Susan Boyle’s size, hahaha. I believe she is on the plump side, after all, that was one of the things she was famous for.

“She’s fat and ugly, let’s all hate her. Oh, hang on, she can sing. Oh, I’m confused now, I’m not sure how to react. Oh, this is a hard one. Do I laugh at her because she’s fat and ugly, or like her because she can sing? Oo, hang on, she’s crying. Aw. My emotions are all over the place here. Oh good, there’s a commercial break, I’ll go to the kitchen and pour myself another glass of wine and that’ll give me some time to think through this dilemma.”

I get upset and annoyed when some information about reality TV somehow finds its way into my brain, because I am proud to be ignorant about such things. But now and again I am betrayed by my friends and allies. I’m reading the Guardian and one of the articles will mention something about a contestant on some reality TV show, or someone on radio 4 will name some Z-list celebrity currently ensconced in a jungle, and I’ll feel hurt and betrayed, because I thought these were safe places.

And now I know this information, I know that I can never unlearn it. I’ll remember that for ever now, because the horror of suddenly having this information thrust at me unbidden, has created a heightened state of emotion, creating the perfect neurological environment to ensure that the memory is cemented. You are apparently more likely to retain information if it is learnt while you are in a heightened emotional state. I tried explaining this at college to my hot French teacher, who was worried I was falling behind in class. “Well, if you really care about my exam results, then you should really be having sex with me. Just make sure to shout out French words all the way through, and my heightened emotional state will mean that I am neurologically wired to remember.” Believe it or not, sadly this gambit didn’t succeed.

Last week I accidentally absorbed some information about Celebrity Big Brother. Up until that point, I had no idea Celebrity Big Brother was even happening. Until last week, the only things I knew about the entire history of Celebrity Big Brother was that the comedian Jack Dee escaped the house by scaling a roof, MP George Galloway pretended to be a cat (or something like that), and someone called Chantelle, who wasn’t an actual celebrity, not by any stretch of the imagination (which in Celebrity Big Brother’s case stretches mindbogglingly far) became the girlfriend of fellow Celebrity Big Brother contestant Preston from the band the Ordinary Boys. That, up until last week, was everything I had accidentally absorbed about Celebrity Big Brother.

But then last week, I was reading the Huffington Post and a headline caught my attention.

“CBB’ Stephanie Davis says that Boyfriend Sam Reece ‘Isn’t Right For Her’ And Wants To Be Single.”

Now, bare in mind that, at this point, I had no idea that Celebrity Big Brother was even happening, and so I had no notion that this story had anything to do with Celebrity Big Brother. Nor did I know who Stephanie Davis was. Being blind, I am using a screen reader, and so the news is being read to me. I heard the screen reader say “CBB’ Stephanie Davis says that Boyfriend Sam Reece ‘Isn’t Right For Her’ And Wants To Be Single”, and, having no idea that CBB stoodd for Celebrity Big Brother, I assumed that this Stephanie Davis person must be a presenter on the BBC TV channel for children six years and under, CBeebies. Why, I wondered, would a Cbeebies presenter be talking about such personal stuff on TV to children, most of whom wouldn’t really be able to understand what she was going on about. I imagined that Stephanie Davis must have had a breakdown live on air, and vented her relationship troubles live on TV in front of bemused children and parents. But obviously the article wasn’t about that, and so I ended up reading about Stephanie Davis, East Enders actor, who has apparently been flirting with some guy on Celebrity Big Brother, even though she has a boyfriend. Not quite as exciting.

I apologise, if you are like me, and enjoy being ignorant about such things. I am aware that I have now dragged you into also knowing this knowledge.

I don’t watch reality TV, and I tend to avoid any of the dross that is on TV. I will occasionally watch something. This week I have watched War And Peace with my housemate Elsa, and a programme on BBC Four called The Brain with neuroscientist David Eagleman, who I imagine is constantly asked what it’s like to nearly share a name with the famous folk singer and blogger David Eagle.

There are so many amazing books, radio and TV programmes, so much great music, comedy and drama that I will never have time to listen to before I die, so I generally don’t see the point in wasting that precious time I do have watching actors in a soap I know nothing about flirting with a guy who I’ve never heard of and then announcing that she’s dumping some other guy who I’ve also never heard of. I assume that many of you reading/listening to this feel the same, which is why you’ve chosen to spend some of your precious time reading/listening to these Dollops, which is obviously a very good use of your time – well done.

But, last Saturday I watched an entire episode of the Channel 4 reality tV show, the Undateables. I didn’t choose to watch it. Me, Ben and Elsa had just come home from an evening out seeing the comedian Ed Byrne, who was very good incidentally. We were having a cup of tea, South African Red Bush Tea with a Hint of Vanilla, just in case you’re interested) and Ben switched on the TV, which landed on the Undateables.

It was just on in the background while we were talking, but it didn’t take long for our conversation to dissipate as we became interested in what was happening on the TV. And it’s not as if I didn’t have ample opportunity to stop watching. There were three comercial breaks, but still I remained until the end. I had become interested in the stories and the characters, and I had to see what happened.

Basically, the Undateables is a programme in which people who feel insecure about dating and worried about never finding love are matched up with each other. These people tend to have disabilities. So it’s obviously a bit of a controversial programme, given that there are people on their with physical and learning disabilities, plus the name seems rather reductive, just lumping all these people together as The Undateables.

Obviously it’s not presented like a blatant freak show, and I think that in some ways you could argue that it’s up to the viewers how they perceive it and react to it. Some people will no doubt laugh at the expense of the show’s participants, but others might find it life affirming and positive. It may even offer hope and comfort to some viewers. There were times that we laughed at things that happened and things that the participants said, but I don’t think that it was really laughing at a person’s expense, but I’m sure that there are people who watch it and enjoy it for that reason.

There was a man with autism, who also had some other learning disability. He found it difficult to form sentences and to put words in the right order. This led to some very interesting turns of phrase. He was a very lively and enthusiastic person, constantly smiling and upbeat, and his odd turns of phrase made us laugh. But I don’t think laughing at this was in any way insensitive or inappropriate. Even his parents smiled and laughed at the various odd phrases he’d come out with. It’s a part of who he is, and it’s clear that the enthusiastic, idiosyncratic way in which he speaks brings joy to those around him. Surely then it’s best to embrace all this as a quality, rather than being afraid to acknowledge it as anything other than sad or tragic. Surely that would rob this person and everyone around him of positively acknowledging and appreciating his qualities, even if those qualities are born out of a disability.

His parents were incredible, and wanted their son to experience the love that his parents enjoyed. There were a few moments where their son would talk about how incredible it would be to find someone and have the type of happy life that his parents had. His parents seemed very close and remarkably supportive of their son. They were also amazingly resourceful. The mother set up a dating agency for people with learning disabilities in the local area, in order to help her son meet someone similar and find love. He ended up getting a girlfriend from this, and they seemed very happy. In some ways it was a shame that they bothered going down the Undateables TV show route, given that in the end, the date that the programme fixed for him didn’t really work out, whereas the mother’s resourcefulness did pay off and seemingly had nothing to do with the TV show. But maybe this has helped offer a solution for other people in similar situations. The mother’s dating agency has helped not only her son, but other people with learning difficulties to find love.

This was the first time I’d watched this programme, and while I’m not really interested in watching it again, I didn’t find it particularly offensive. I think the concept still makes me feel a bit uncomfortable and uncertain, and it’s clear that the name is deliberately sensational and controversial, in order to garner attention. However, I did still feel somewhat sullied afterwards, and so, in an attempt to cleanse myself, listened to Stephen Hawking’s Reith Lecture on BBC Radio 4 about black holes. I didn’t understand a word of it, but at least I felt somewhat vindicated and less dirty.

I’ll leave you with some optional homework. Here’s a link to a blog post written by my friend, Mabel, which is an open letter to the producers of the Undateables, after she received aniFacebook nvitation to help them find potential participants. Mabel has a stammer and presumably was found by The Undatable’s researchers because she is part of a Facebook group for people with stammers. I don’t think she’s ever watched the programme, but, like me, just felt uncomfortable and uncertain about the concept. However, it’s well-written, funny, and makes some good points.

You can read it here.

Back tomorrow. Another day, another Dollop.

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One thought on “Dollop 39 – Stephen Hawking vs The Undateables

  1. Arghh! You have sullied my iPad screen with your trash-TV trivia. And I never read a newspaper. There should have been a warning posted at the start of the blog. Please go back to dollops about naked phone calls and wiping bums – much less likely to offend.

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