Tonight, Love Island returns to ITV2 and just like that, pubs all over the country prepare for eight weeks of early bird specials as young people leave their establishments early to flock home to their sofas, hoping to catch a glimpse of a televised shag.
The couldn’t-be-further-from-reality-reality-show is back tonight for it’s fifth series and not without it’s controversies.
As a feminist fan of the show, I’ve been aware of the show’s problematic undertones for a long time now and have subsequently whipped out every conceivable excuse I could think of to defend my obsession with it; denying the archaic and misogynistic ritual that sees young women paraded in their bikinis in front of the men who are about to select them, solely on their appearance. I’ve argued that these women should be applauded for their confidence and that their decision to bare all on telly is not ours to question. I’ve even suggested that the playing field is evened in their with the boys under just as much scrutiny as the girls.
There’s an element of truth to all of this, of course. But thou does, obviously, protest too much and in reality I think I defend it not because it’s spear-heading a pioneering new wave of feminism, rather, because it makes me feel better about my morbid fascination with a social phenomenon that is entirely weird, morally dubious and societally dangerous.
Because Love Island, if we’re honest, is a disaster. And the proof, tragically, is in the pudding.
The detrimental effects that reality TV and the aftercare, or lack thereof, has been well documented recently with Love Island and the subsequent fame and stress, resulting in the deaths of two former contestants by suicide, first Sophie Gradon (and a few weeks later her boyfriend) and more recently Mike Thelassitis or “Muggy Mike” as he had been coined during his time in the villa last summer.
These deaths have been connected, entirely, to Love Island and although ITV bosses have vowed to provide more in the way of aftercare, paying close attention to therapy and financial support, they have, to my mind at least, been found wanting. Not least of all because when the news broke a couple of weeks ago that a guest on the Jeremy Kyle Show had died by suicide, the show, that had been going on for 16 years was axed within a couple of days, whereas Love Island which has seen, by association, three deaths in it’s four years, is still very much running.
As ITV’s biggest money maker there is no doubt that where Love Island is concerned, the priority is not, as they claim, protecting the wellbeing of the contestants, rather, ensuring the viewing figures are as good as ever.
But now I’m wondering if they will be, or actually, how they can be.
Much like how cigarette sales dropped notably when it was revealed that the tar-filled-nicotine sticks were in fact bad for you, the number of people left unable to find one measly excuse as to why they are flocking to their television screens tonight will, I suspect, be on the up.
Love Island is getting harder and harder to defend and I wonder now what the future looks like for this perverse form of reality TV.
If we’re honest, we have always known that Love Island was bad. Not Ted Bundy bad, but not entirely great, either. It’s not exactly an intellectually stimulating way to spend an hour, it promotes questionable morals (I’m not slut shaming, I’m simply wondering if hopping from bed to bed is the sort of thing we want to be encouraging the millions of young fans to be doing), there is blatant and casual sexism, terrible language and, of course, a crippling lack of body diversity.
ITV are still yet to send a plus size person into the villa and that is getting harder and harder to defend. As a thin white woman, and therefore the ~almost represented~ demographic (I’m lacking the silicone and the skinny teas but ya get me), I find this show wreaks havoc on my mental health and body image, so how a person already ostracised by so much of society is supposed to feel about the lack of representation is horrendous.
I’ve written before about my thin privilege and I’m disinclined, therefore, to labour this point but the absence has been noted. So too has the response given by ITV boss when asked about the lack of representation: “to be attracted to one another”, which of course gives the implication that no one would be attracted to a person that was not a size eight…. exactly the short of bullshit narrative we’ve dealt with our entire lives.
There have been concerns raised too about what would happen if a plus size person was put in there. Social media is a cess pit at the best of times, no more so than during Love Island season, would it even be fair to send an unsuspecting victim into the cruel clutches of a society hell bent on shaming people based on their size??? Particularly given the mental health risks associated with being a Love Island contestant.
SEE WHAT I MEAN!? THERE ARE PROBLEMS. SO MANY PROBLEMS.
But these are the truths that we have historically been able to overlook, to sweep under the rug and ignore. Or to try to defend. Or just to flat out ignore. It can’t be that bad, it’s on ITV2!!!
But this year is the first year that the Love Island bad-ness is almost entirely impossible to run away from. The country was shocked to hear the news of Sophie Gradon last year and even more so to hear of what happened to Mike Thelassitis, think what you want of the show, these deaths were totally tragic and have left most of us with a sadness inside that will make this year’s show all the harder to watch.
Because what is Love Island for, if not an excuse for the viewers to sit at home and judge the contestants? Yes it’s entertainment, but at a cost, clearly. And now we have to wonder if it’s worth it. How long can you keep enjoying something after you find out that it is in fact problematic?
I feel like I did after the government implemented the ruling that saw every packet of cigarettes have a picture of a blackened lung on it, uneasy and a bit ashamed with every hit.
In fact the parallels to be drawn between my current Love Island quandary and my time as a smoker are extensive; where I used to feel an upsetting rage when someone would (entirely justifiably) tut at me for lighting up at a bus stop, I feel something similar now when people roll their eyes at the discovery that I will still be watching the show. Their shock and annoyance that I’m continuing with something so blatantly bad… I get it. It’s justified.
Because Love Island IS bad.
It’s great; obviously, there are millions of us that adore it. But it’s bad too.
It’s bad for the constants. It’s quite bad for feminism, probably. And it’s really bad for beauty standards. All over the country tonight there will be men and women feeling guilty for the pizza they ordered to celebrate a new month and getting through Monday. Who will be hitting the gym harder tomorrow as a result. Who will be made to feel unloveable because of the language used to describe the perfect bodies of the caricatures feeling this year’s villa
Of course it is more important than ever that we remember how not real this show is, how we must not compare ourselves to the contestants. How, despite this show and basically all that it stands for, we are so much more than our bodies and what we look like. That in the scheme of life, for NORMAL people, our appearances will remain almost entirely irrelevant to our experiences.
It is also critically important that we watch the language we use this summer. If this year has taught us anything it is that these contestants are not jut caricatures, they are real people with real feelings and the thoughts and opinions that we share, they carry weight and do have consequences. We have a responsibility to be nice, and kind and to live by the age old adage, forgotten in the social media age: that if you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
Of course… that goes entirely against what Love Island means to all of us, and will, I suspect, change the way that I watch it. But that’s the ultimatum I’ve given myself: I either watch it and be nice or I don’t watch it at all. In the same way that playing with my brother without resorting to violence as a child became boring, maybe I too will tire of this limited version of a pastime I once loved. But those are the rules.
Writing it all down I’m actually hard pushed to find a reason as to why I am still planning on watching it… all I seem able to find, when push comes to shove, is bad.
But you’re reading the words of a woman who smoked for ten years knowing full well that there is only one upside to what is a disgusting and dangerous addiction: there is always something to talk about when you’re standing outside the pub.
So yeh, little in the way of morality, but a fuck load of small talk up my sleeve. Love Island, here we come.