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I hate to love Love Island, but even I will be switching off this time

It’s that time of the year again- or is it? Love Island’s winter series is debuting for a second time after the COVID-era hiatus. Cue the cheesy twitter memes and sorry attempt at advertisers to assert their relevance. UNIDAYS this morning offered me a compilation of discounts that were ‘my type on paper’. 

So, how to link Love Island to Oxford? It’s a bit more simple than you might imagine. Though they are both very hard to get accepted into, one may be more so than the other. A 2018 headline claimed, ‘Almost four times as many people (150,000) applied to appear on Love Island this year as applied to get into Oxbridge (40,000).’ For sure, the pool of applicants is bigger in one sense, as grades are not a barrier to entry, but attaining the unrealistic body types wanted for the show are difficult nonetheless. 

I must admit, I loved Love Island when I was younger. Who can forget Chris and Kem’s bromance? Michael’s ‘childish’ line? Amy’s ‘I was coming back here to tell you that I love you?’ Even the iconic moment from the last winter series of Shaughna’s ‘Congrats hun’ to Callum after Casa Amor is unforgettable. Or Davide’s ‘You’re a Liar’ to Ekin-su in the most recent series? The easy-viewing drama over the course of the story, and the peak crescendo of the Casa Amor recoupling is gripping viewing

Love Island is successful because of such a spectacle. However, it is a spectacle with sinister undertones. It feeds into the tabloid culture that loves to make us judgemental, polarised and angry with ourselves and others. Love Island lost its magic for me when Caroline Flack took her own life after being pursued by the tabloids, who called her an attempted killer and hounded her hundreds of times in the months leading up to her death. It was by those same papers who ran headlines describing the ‘tragedy’ of her death soon after, egregiously arrogant to the role they played in her death. It was a devastating tragedy marred by the quick return to air of the then mid-way through season, and a sobbing Laura Witmore in the live final tribute. It’s not the only suicide associated with the show, three have occurred to date; all have been directly attributed to the mental health impact during and after the show. 

The artificial environment stoked by the show and drama-fuelled opinions of viewers who only see an edited hour of a 24-hour day are symptoms of a Colosseum-like arena where the public declare who receives their favour and who receives their disapproving wrath. The competition element of the show is emblematic of our society. Those who go in there do not generally look for love, but for public favour which returns brand deals and big money. The social media-centric nature of the show ties into society. The ethos of Love Island – become an influencer and live a luxury lifestyle – is seen in the depths of social media that induce insecurity, reduce believed self-worth, and encourage competition between acquaintances at a much more local level. Links can be made to neoliberal individualism and capitalism here, and though they may be unconvincing to some, it is these events that influence the subconscious to a profound extent. The focus on appearance and looking better is a recipe for trouble.

Even if you don’t think Love Island will give you appearance insecurity, the powerful tool of prolonged exposure to judgement based on physical appearance alone is strange. Love Island encourages a relationship built on physical attraction, not genuine connections. The effects are not normally productive. Very few couples remain together for longer than six months after leaving the show. Sure, there are a growing number of Love Island babies, but the percentage of couples that are successful remains low- the heartwarming story of last summer’s winners Davide and Ekin-Su will remain a rarity for now.

I think my falling out of love with the show came from my realisation from progressing maturity that relationships are nothing like what Love Island portrays them to be. Relationships are complex, require commitment and connection, and are not as easy as waiting for someone to walk through the villa door and fall into your arms. It’s a nice myth to believe, but it’s also unrealistic. Advertising this as a brilliant way to find a committed long-term relationship is not healthy for an impressionable young teen audience. Furthermore, in a climate where Andrew Tate’s ethos of a manly man is increasing sexism in the younger echelons of society, Love Island enforces a culture of a petite girl needing a muscly man to couple up with seeming desirable. The lad culture of the boys, seen in full horrific glory on Casa Amor episodes, shows their immaturity without challenging or critiquing it at all. In fact it enforces the glorified double standards that decides who wears a badge of honour for any forays, and who gets labelled a ‘hoe’.  Should we encourage our teenagers to talk to everyone else but the person who their issues are with? Surely mature compromisation should take precedence over conflict-inducing gossiping?

Love Island’s selective diversity is also a pressing issue. The lack of contestants from South East Asian and East Asia is notable, especially considering the proportion of the country these groups represent. Stigma and stereotypes over beauty standards already present in society are reinforced by the lack of this representation and undermine Love Island’s attempt to reform. This issue is emblematic of society as a whole – a  2018 Ofcom report indicated that South Asians have the lowest representation of all minority groups in the media. Love Island’s lack of ethnic diversity is followed by lack of body diversity. Few contestants have been without a six-pack or slimmed waist – past contestants speak of ‘starving’ themselves in preparation for the show. As the format of the show is quick to oust those deemed the least attractive, this effect is exacerbated. 

For me, applying for Love Island could never happen because I’m not straight. The lack of LGBTQ+ representation was grudgingly permissible for practicality during earlier seasons, but attitudes have moved forwards, and a great way of changing the binary boy/girl gender roles on the show would be to include this representation. Sure, most gay people love Love Island; we are normally seen on the Aftersun commentator panel and we feed off the drama, but I want to ask this, relevant to this show and wider society: Do we have to be spectators or can we participate?

Image credit: Thomas Hawk / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 via flickr

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