I Watched An Episode Of Love Island So You Don’t Have To
That it should have come to this. I, like many of you, work in an office. It is often said that television is a dying medium, that the days of turning up at a time determined by a committee to watch an event on a screen are coming to an end. Live sports, news, or other “current” events perhaps are exceptions to this, but with regard to what we would – a little ham-fistedly, but I trust you take my point, here – call “television shows”, though, almost everything is streamed, these days. It’s online, it’s streaming, and you can usually consume as much as you want of it, at your leisure. Sitting down at a set time once a week or even every night to watch a show, feels kind of dated. Young people than I, however, are still tuning into event TV, they’re doing so right now, and they’re doing so in droves.
Love Island is arguably retro television before it even starts. It’s an entertainment show which is a must-see for millions. Fair enough, a lot of people will watch it on catch-up, but even the Twitter feed of this middle-aged curmudgeon gets clogged up at nine o’clock on a Thursday evening with four word tweets that do not make any sense to me whatsoever. “What a waste of a swimming pool.” “I can’t wait for Molly Mae vs Maura.” “Said it before. Say it again. Tommy is as wet as my dog’s blanket.” Without having ever seen a single second of this show, I could be persuaded that these are Russian spy codes, sent to implant positivity about Vladimir Putin directly into our brains.
So, before it starts and without looking anything up, what do I know about Love Island? I think I know that it used to be called Celebrity Love Island, but that they had to drop the word “celebrity” under a fear of breaking the Trades Descriptions Act, such was the dearth of actually famous (by any reasonable metric) actually appearing on it. I think there might have been one person during the “celebrity” days – Paul Danan, formerly out of Hollyoaks – who ended up basically acting like a sex pest, which the producers then decided to use as a trailer for his return during the following series, which sounds like pretty reprehensible behaviour, to me. I don’t think it’s been running continuously since it was first broadcast, but I couldn’t tell you when it ended and when it was brought back.
The show starts with a voiceover which sums up what’s happened in previous episodes which doesn’t, of course, mean anything to me. The voiceover is, of course, is spoken with that mild aura of hysteria first popularised by Dave Lamb on Channel Four’s Come Dine With Me. And before we know it, we’re outside a very fancy looking building. Two women are having a conversation, whilst a group of other women stand on a balcony above them, judging them. The women have tans and dresses that will get shoulder fetishists in a lather. The men look like hog roasts that have been fired from a cannon through River Island. They’re making a carbonara.
Once at dinner, a girl from Essex interviews one of a hogs for a license to get one step closer to having sex with her, whilst the other couple, a girl who is possibly Irish but really has more of a mid-Irish Sea accent talks to a Scottish pound shop Dwayne Johnson. They seem to be getting on a bit better than the other couple – he fails the interview fairly comprehensively – but they’re interrupted by honking laughter from the women in the Gods. The couple are, apparently naturally, more concerned by the fact that the women on the balcony are laughing at them that by the fact that they’re being watched whilst having an “intimate” date together.
The second man up for interview with the Essex girl is a firefighter. Fire-fighting is dangerous, valuable and frequently unglamorous work. We should all be grateful that people will continue to do this work. She asks him if he’s ever rescued a dog. The Irish girl feeds some banana and feeds it into her leather sofa’s mouth. The balcony erupts into screeches. She, apparently, doesn’t give a fuck. I don’t understand who these people are or why they’re doing any of this, and think that she might be quite drunk. What is striking is that those who don’t claim not to give a fuck are the most vocal about it. But that’s fine. I’m just not the intended target audience for it. I’m not as angered by it as I thought I might be, though. It’s exploitative, obviously, but if privacy is a thing of the past, then is it that unreasonable to put a price on dignity too?
Well, there are ethical issues that have been thrown sharply into the light by recent events surrounding another ITV product, The Jeremy Kyle Show, which was taken off the air earlier this year following the suicide of a former guest. Further horror stories have also since emerged from that particular moral desert of a show. Two former contestants of Love Island have also taken their own lives in recent years. Michael Thalassitis was a fairly accomplished semi-professional footballer who appeared on the show in 2017. He was found dead in March of this year. Sophie Gradon was a marketing manager and model who appeared in the show in 2016. She was found dead in July 2018. Her boyfriend in turn did likewise three weeks after her death. I don’t necessarily think that shows like this should be taken off the air. I do, however, think that there is no level of care that can be offered to people thrust quite suddenly into the public eye that is too much, even if fame was what they always wanted.
But hey, who wants to get held up on that depressing stuff, when we can return to the Love Island hostel (well, they do all room in two big rooms, giving the sleeping quarters the feel of an Ikea army barracks) to see how things are progressing there, hmm?
Lather, rinse, repeat. Everybody is brought together to drink more booze together, with the white noise of the group being wound back to highlight snippets of people’s conversations. Every so often, they cut away to an interview room where the various inmates get to sound off on whatever is playing on their mind. Molly Mae is in there, and she apparently means business. In her case, being someone’s back-up option is “not a thing.” But the conversations don’t make sense. Anton is pleased with the way his date went. Another guy (name unconfirmed), less tanned and with a haircut lifted straight from a late 80s indie pop band, appears on the sofa and he tells Pound Shop Rock that he sent one of the contestants a message on Instagram, to which she didn’t reply. As the evening wears on, the group dissolves into small groups and pairs, sitting in giant rocking chairs or standing around. Molly Mae is back in the Big Brother diary room. She doesn’t care enough to go and talk to a camera. For the second time.
There is a lot of strangeness in Love Island, if you haven’t been paying attention to the way in which mainstream television has evolved over the last quarter of a century or so. Love Island is essentially a mash-up of a television show. It’s one part game show (though I have no idea whether there’s a prize beyond the celebrity that comes with winning it), one part soap opera (there’s clearly some sort of narrative between these people, and the presence of alcohol alone hints at the desire on the part of the producers to create conflict), and one part reality TV show, in that everybody is miked up all the time, with the director deciding whose microphones are turned up at any given time. It might be argued that this level of editorialising disqualifies it from being considered “reality TV”, but ever was it thus, and the direct influence of Big Brother is obvious in several different respects.
As for the contestants themselves, what’s most striking is how similar they all are too each other. The casting team have clearly gone for a form of diversity. Different ethnicities are represented and they speak with the accents of different towns and cities, but other than that the’ve all come out of a cookie cutter. No-one is too overweight. No-one isn’t cishet in any way that is noticeable. The women have strappy dresses, (the white ones only) fake tan and long hair. They seem to crave respect more than anything else, something which probably says something in itself, not least the extent to which they feel they’re not being afforded it. Respect and muscles. The men wear neat shirts and a preponderence of twentieth-century edition double denim and fake tan, and have comically over-sized muscles. I believe this what is meant by “hench.” Or perhaps that was five years ago. It’s not so much that it’s difficult to keep up, more that I’ve lost the will to do so.
But it’s not surprising that this should be the case. Love Island isn’t a social experiment. It’s entertainment directed squarely between the eyes of a targetted audience. Time restraints mean that I only have the time to watch a single episode of it, but so much as a brief glance at the ITV Hub seems to indicate that they’ll churn out as much of this as the audience wants. There are currently two spin-off shows on top the main show, which is one every single evening on ITV at 9pm, and there’s doubtless more on YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Perhaps it’s for the best that I’m not going to be getting into it after all. I don’t have the time for a commitment like that. Still, at least I’ll be able to advance my conversation with my fellow kids beyond “How do you do?” around the watercooler on Monday morning.