Yesterday, I wrote a review of Channel 4’s controversial series The Undateables. While I do like the show and believe that a lot of the controversy is undeserved, I do feel that some disabilities are somewhat played up for laughs and that premise, title and advertising is produced with the knowledge that it will probably give people the impression that it is mocking those featured on it rather than showing people with disabilities as completely human, with the same hopes, dreams and desires as the rest of us. The Undateables is as inspiring as it is heartwarming. After I completed my review I contacted Justin Coling, who was featured in the first series of The Undateables. Justin was born with neurofibromatosis type one, a condition that causes tumours to grow on his skin, but Justin refuses to allow it to dominate his life or hold him back. Justin is a very likable guy and I was impressed with his comments on the show and the affect it has had on his life. He has generously agreed that I can share his views here, the following words are Justin’s.
“The show does not and was never meant to take advantage of anyone with a disability or disfigurement. It is meant to be educational and help the general public understand the aspects of dating that they may have never even given a second thought to. The autistic people who take part are not there for people to make fun of or laugh at, in fact, the show invites you to witness the difficulties they may face, such as holding a conversation and knowing what to say. These are things most people may struggle with, but when you have communications issues you can imagine how difficult the problems are.
At first I was not happy with the name of the show and mentioned my concerns to the producers, however, the decision had already been made. It is a name that makes people annoyed to be considered ‘undatables’, but the show gets people switching on and then they see the truth. Whether a person is disfigured, Autistic or has Down’s syndrome, it doesn’t matter, we can date and should be able to with out seeking the permission of the general public.
Does it take advantage of the arguably more vulnerable people in society? No, not really. I knew what I was doing when I signed up, it is all explained to us before hand. We even had to see a psychiatrist to make sure we would be able to handle any negative feedback or people in the street telling us they did not like the show.
I had a friend who added me on Facebook after the show, She told me last week she caught her eight year old son watching the whole of The Undatables series in his bedroom as he loves them. The fact that kids are taking such an interest is great news and I am more than happy for them to watch that rather than the crap that some kids get bombarded with. He is getting an understanding of people with different issues and this can only be a good thing.
I have had kids and teens stop me in the street. They want to ask me stuff and are curious about my situation. I don’t mind, it means they are interested in people who have these issues. Surely that is better than kids making up there own mind and getting it all wrong?
Sure, I have had a few nasty messages left on YouTube where Betty TV put a promo of the show on there but I just laughed at the messages, things like ‘Go kill yourself’, you know the sort of stuff. I don’t let it bother me as there were a lot of positive messages as well.”
So, there you have it. When I asked Justin what he thought about my review he said that while I did raise some valid points, he didn’t agree with all of it. He strongly denies that the show takes advantage of any of the participants and that some disabilities are played for laughs. Do I agree with him? Well, my opinion hasn’t totally changed but in all fairness, he knows more about the show than I do, after all, he was on it and experienced the entire process from the start. It didn’t take much time talking to Justin for me to like him, he comes across as intelligent, kind and funny and I am confident that he would be a very committed partner. I speak for all of us here when I say that I hope Justin, and indeed ALL those featured on The Undateables, find exactly what they are looking for and what they undoubtedly deserve.