We should not be ashamed to watch Love Island – as long as we recognise its faults

By Juliette Holland

At almost seven weeks into what has become for many a quasi-religious ritual of sitting down for our nightly hour of Love Island, it seems like the right time to reflect on the ever-increasing criticisms of a show with a paradoxically accumulating fan base. Is the very act of watching Love Island an implicit acceptance of its biases and prejudices? Should we be scorned for encouraging it?

The show provides an escapism that allows us to fervently invest ourselves in the trivial, yet it would be naïve to suggest that the reality TV show is truly an evasion of real-life problems – rather, as recent debates have shown, it is fully embroiled in and contributing to them.

Indeed, Love Island has raised debates of a varying degree of severity, from eliciting outcry at the programme’s staged and manipulative nature to accusations of discrimination. It has faced criticism for an editing process that seems to degrade and show people at their worst. And all in the name of entertainment.

It would be naïve to suggest that the reality TV show is truly an evasion of real-life problems

Perhaps we should not be surprised at the selective editing process of this genre, with BAFTA recently deciding to rename the category ‘Reality and Constructed Fiction’. Indeed, whilst 2,600 complaints were levelled at Ofcom for the show’s emotional manipulation of fan favourite Dani Dyer, the genre is self-professedly constructed- factual only to an extent.

More crucially, the demographic chosen to participate in the programme is an undeniably exclusive one. The cast consisting predominantly of models is one that is likely to reinforce body insecurity by promoting a body type far from the norm. In a world where cosmetic surgery is increasingly accessible and its prevalence growing, the characters of Love Island do little to encourage people to be happy with themselves. But most notably, the issue that has recently been raised by viewers is of racial discrimination. Not only was Samira, a black female contestant, the only black female contestant, but producers were accused of unfairly minimising her screen time, side-lining her throughout the series.

The genre is self-professedly constructed- factual only to an extent

Although some have suggested that the programme’s triviality and unrealistic nature eliminates the need to take such problems seriously, the problems it raises over prejudice and body image should not be belittled. Discrimination at its most trivial is often the most dangerous form as it is one that is condoned and tacitly accepted. Yet it is also important not to see Love Island as a moral edict nor wholly accurate representation; if we watch it, we must remain at a distance, able to see its faults and criticise it for them. It is dangerous only if we accept it as the reality, or as the desired reality- something which viewers seem not to be doing (judging by the rampant social media criticism).

Discrimination at its most trivial is often the most dangerous form as it is one that is condoned and tacitly accepted.

Perhaps then, people should not be intent on deriding its viewers and framing its success as a reflection of a culturally impoverished society. Instead they should join in, recognise and call out its problems, and participate in the debates it ignites. For at its heart, beyond superficialities, Love Island and its participants are not so very different to ourselves. Those who watch it enjoy witnessing and vicariously investing in the formation of human bonds, friendships and relationships. The desire for such connections is innate to human nature. Whilst it is in many ways constructed and false, Love Island is also microcosmic of human society. It shows the very real bonds that form within a group of people placed in a unique situation together: friendships form, a unique lexicon develops. Indeed, it is a process not dissimilar to those first few weeks of university when you form a close bond with a group of people and unwittingly find yourselves employing each other’s vernacular.

Love Island gets us talking, whether simply about a banal argument or about more deep-rooted societal problems – MPs talk about it, women’s charities have commented on it. And that in itself brings us closer together, allowing us to form those very same bonds as we meet up with friends to watch it or log on to Twitter to join in the discussion about what are often trivial, but also sometimes not, inherently human problems.

Featured Image: Hotel Internazionale Ischia via Flickr

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