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Othering in The Undateables
The reality-TV dating show The Undateables has been a controversial subject ever since it aired in 2012. Critics have claimed the show to be “offensive” and not to represent the authentic experiences of people with disabilities, in that it portrays disabled people as a form of entertainment for the able-bodied (Scheuer, par. 8). This distinction of the able-bodied versus the disabled is one example of a dichotomy of othering. Generally, othering can occur for various reasons: due to disability, but also one’s ethnicity, social class, gender, sexual identity, etc. Interestingly, through the process of othering, the notion of the self is established and simultaneously, “a notion of non-self is formed” (Kolar 1). As Simone de Beauvoir notes, “no group ever sets itself up as the One without at once setting up the Other over against itself” (qtd. in Kitzinger 5). The self is thus socially constructed as the norm from which the other is differs (Kitzinger 3). In the show, the able-bodied constitute the norm against which the disabled are othered. Therefore, this essay will argue that The Undateables perpetuates the othering of people with disabilities.
The first indication that The Undateables others its contestants is by objectifying them. Precisely, the other is generally “objectified or disenfranchised” and “treated as a nonperson” by the dominant group (Bullis and Bach 4). In other words, the othered object is considered to be inferior and less human than the able-bodied. First, this is exemplified by the contestants’ framing as the objects of gaze. As Susan notes, the participants in the show are portrayed in a voyeuristic way (834). In the beginning, the camera follows Daniel around on the market. The viewer is never presented with Daniel’s point of view but with a perspective gazing at him (6:58, 7:35), suggesting that he is observed. Moreover, during Daniel’s and Charlie’s second date, the camera shifts at various times to the chaperone observing the couple (41:28, 46:18), reinforcing the gaze of the able-bodied towards the disabled. The objectification is reinforced by the “overtly patronizing” voice-over, that describes participants as “extraordinary singletons” who are “follow[ed] as they take their first steps into the world of dating” (5:32) (Caulfield, par. 2), suggesting that they are inferior. In addition, the othered object is denied “the power of free action and decision- making”, and is thus made “passive and silent” (Bullis and Bach 4). This is apparent when Daniel receives a phone call from the dating agency, informing him that they have found a potential match (14:15): with the only information given to Daniel that the match is called Sam, a meeting is scheduled. This illustrates that disabled people have to accept the agency’s assigned date and cannot actively choose whom they meet. Thus, these examples show that the contestants are othered through objectification.
The second indication that The Undateables others its contestants is that it reduces complexity. According to Wilkinson and Kitzinger, “representations […] which imply a homogeneous category of otherness” render diversity and difference invisible (5). This is apparent in that the show merges “different disabilities into the same identification” (Richardson, qtd. in Boross 11): the episode mainly portrays contestants with mental disorders such as autism and learning disabilities and excludes physical impairments. This illustrates that the represented disabilities in the show may lack diversity and are all “put […] in one big basket” (Boross 6). Additionally, complexity is reduced in that the participants’ representation is based on stereotypes. As Darke notes, “the media’s representation of disability has always been stereotypical, clichéd and archetypal” (qtd. in Rodan et. al 21). Specifically, people with disabilities are often presented as pitiable victims that need help (Nelson 5). This can be observed in the show’s title, The Undateables, which turns to “dateables” in the intro (6:46): the sense is conveyed that disabled people are unsuccessful in finding a partner unless they are assisted by someone, in this case, the agency. Moreover, through various flashbacks, the previous unsuccessful dates of participants Daniel (8:54), Ruth (11:57), and Michael (18:52) are revisited, accentuating their lack of success in the dating world. In these scenes, the dark grey filter conveys an atmosphere of sadness, unhappiness and powerlessness (Fusco, par. 6), which reinforces the notion of the disabled not as differentiated individuals, but as a victimized homogenous group. Furthermore, most participants depend on able-bodied people to prepare for their dates; for example, Daniel’s parents give him a detailed list of sentences he should say during the date (38:16), and Michael’s mother practices conversational habits with him (20:35). Thus, these examples highlight that the show depicts the participants as a homogenous group, and therefore reduces complexity.

Type Of Service: Rewriting
Type Of assignment: Essay
Subject: English
Pages/words: 4/937
Number of sources: N/A
Academic Level: Master’s
Paper Format: MLA
Line Spacing: Double
Language style: UK English

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