I didn’t want to watch Love Island. I really didn’t – and before people pile into the comments to say, with predictable snark, “Why did you, then? Nobody was forcing you!” – thank you, I’m well aware of my choices. I could have watched some sport – indeed, the nation seemed split, last night, between the holy trinity of Wimbledon, the football and ITV2 – high stakes, surprise penalties and dramatic finishes all round.
But there’s just something about the zeitgeist, isn’t there? By which I mean fomo... by which I mean playing along with social media, like it’s a game – and Twitter has to be the very best example of a “live action scroll along”. I didn’t know in which direction to look first: at the TV screen, or the tweets pouring onto my feed – some serious, many snarky, a few (like Jason Okundaye’s) that left me absolutely howling. “Sorry I wouldn’t be sucking anyone’s earlobes I’ll go home first night that’s fine, I had fun,” he said, with perfectly comedic dry (and disgusted) wit, after a segment in which “Sharon” had to suck “Hugo’s” lobe for a full 30 seconds. Never has something lasting less than a minute felt so long.
Why didn’t I want to watch Love Island in the first place? Well, as I wrote yesterday, I do feel as though it’s not entirely healthy for us all. It feels like voyeurism in its most obvious and unbridled form: a way for us to passively “hate” one another; to laugh at and mock those who we deem brasher and more ballsy and – at times – more stupid than we consider ourselves to be. I can’t help but fear that it taps into the baser parts of human nature; the parts that delight in schadenfreude and public humiliation.
Just look at the video excerpt that was shared (by the official Love Island Twitter account, no less) in 2020, showing an impassioned discussion of how much contestant Jess Gale loved the number 11. “It’s the freshest number ... like, you know, when a number is so pure,” she said. Responses ranged from affectionate teasing to all-out mockery.
Love Island makes me uneasy because it seems to provide an excuse for us to be collectively snobby; to point at people’s failings – not too dissimilar to the way the nation laughed at Jade Goody, when she made her debut in the Big Brother house in 2002 and found herself openly lambasted on the tabloid front pages for public mishaps such as admitting she thought the city of Cambridge was in London, and saying, “Rio de Janeiro, ain’t that a person?” She was even branded “a pig” by certain sections of the media.
It also gives me deeper concerns, borne out by the uncomfortable reality that Kaz Kamwi – currently the only Black woman in this year’s Love Island line-up – was picked last by the male contestants. As Okundaye put it: “4th year in a row the black girl is picked last. But BLM right?”
If there’s any motivation for watching programmes like Love Island, then perhaps it’s the frothiness of it – the escapism brought about by seeing a bunch of beautiful young bodies cavorting shamelessly around each other, each claiming they have an aspirational and relatable reason for being there: to find love. Perhaps Love Island is the equivalent of a Disney romance, these days.
We’re also – thanks to Covid – all marooned on our own small island, unable to travel freely. So watching a group of gorgeous twenty-somethings in bikinis in a tropical paradise can give us a moment’s break from the doom and gloom, and help us imagine that we, too, might just be young and hot and standing on the precipice of the rest of our lives, rather than sitting on the sofa eating left-over takeaway from Friday night because we’re too tired to cook. Just me?
I don’t know if I’ll make it past the debut episode – that seems to be the most fun bit, anyway, as we get to see who arrives (and makes waves) in the Love Island villa. But if everything else feels too depressing – speculation about another winter lockdown, uncertainty over the 19 July reopening, and the travel industry still being stubbornly suffocated – I might continue. And even if I don’t, I don’t think I’ll be able to resist looking at Twitter to see who “wins”, and who’s just playing along.