Every summer without fail, I allow myself to be sucked into the strange, heteronormative heatwave that is Love Island. Much like any of my bad habits, I know it’s not healthy. While my reading lists pile up, and deadlines evaporate in the background, I sit and watch tanned, flawless people engage in relationships I don’t believe will survive the year.
I watch Love Island almost like a nature documentary, and to be honest, I think most of us do. But attempting to analyse the behaviours and motivations of people on screen when we only get to witness an hour of their day is unrealistic. It is all too easy to caricature the people we watch on Love Island, branding them fake and toxic, forgetting the very real psychological damage occurring in front of our eyes. This year has been particularly problematic in its showing of contestants in obvious distress, causing Faye and Teddy’s argument to spark 25,000 complaints to Ofcom. And with strong links to previous contestants’ suicides and mental health problems, it seems that producers are not learning lessons about the welfare of their contestants.
The programme exploits strong emotions for views and profit, as shown in the out of context snippets we get in the ‘tomorrow night…’ section of each episode. We become hooked quickly, talking excitedly about the prospect of tension and tears, knowing we will not have to deal with the trauma and fallout on a personal level.
Our relationship with reality TV isn’t sustainable. And truthfully, the popularity of Love Island seems to be beginning to wane in light of its inability to keep up with the times. Between refusing to acknowledge any relationships outside of the heterosexual ‘norm’, and reinforcing misogynistic stereotypes, the programme is at risk of becoming completely irrelevant for the majority of young people.
Ahead of the Love Island 2021 final, I have been considering why it is that reality dating shows still survive on our screens even when we recognise the futility of the drama and stereotypes played out each year. Maybe we love to dislike the same people. Or maybe there is something entirely unique about being able to watch such recognisable relationship patterns play out on screen, being able to see lust and romance in all its gory technicolour. Some important lessons have been learnt this year about calling out damaging relationship behaviours, with Liberty’s break up with Jake sparking a conversation around ‘negging’ and trusting your gut instinct in a relationship which doesn’t feel right.
But most viewers of the show recognise the problems that come with purposefully interfering with the emotions of contestants who often seem incredibly vulnerable. And believing that real love could ever blossom when the true motivation is a cash prize is simply a recipe for heartbreak.
Image: Nick Fewings via Unsplash