Why you love Love Island

Image credit: Love Island via YouTube

On 24th July, Kem Cetinay and Amber Davies emerged as Love Island victors of the 2017 series, each claiming £25,000 in shared prize-money. As is typical in the post-villa come-down period, the contestants now loom large in the public consciousness. Whether being offered lucrative magazine shoots and spots as ITV presenters, or engaging in explosive Twitter feuds, it seems that the Love Island personas of this year’s series are cementing their sense of new-found celebrity.  Every day now, The Sun and Daily Mirror provide us with updates and juicy gossip. This has spurred many viewers to engage in their own kind of self-reflection- namely, why they loved Love Island so much, and why they’re still interested in what the couples are getting up to now.

I’ll admit, Love Island as a concept has always made me feel uncomfortable. The heteronormativity of the couplings and the real-life televised sex makes me squirm. Not to mention that the contestants seem to sell themselves out to the producers, who are entirely responsible for their character development. But this didn’t stop me falling in love with the show, or millions of others among the British public.  Besides secretly living for the retrograde challenges, the explanation for this must lie in the fact that we, as thinking and feeling individuals, fundamentally identify with these characters, their actions and thought-processes. Even though it’s not something we’d like to admit. 

The crucial thing to understanding the Love Island craze is its paradoxical element. The show is supposed to be trivial and meaningless, with childish behaviour and infamous ‘texts’ tricking us into thinking Love Island is all about frivolity and play. In fact, it serves as a very serious (and vicious) cultural arena, where real people interact in a scenario most of us would not dream of putting ourselves in. We cannot help becoming attached to the contestants; the villa representing a space wherein the commonalities between our species are played out before the national gaze. We emphathise and deplore in due measure, and it’s all about a topic which has become a taboo in the modern, casual-relationship age: love. 

Sometimes, humorous exchanges between contestants feature in 30-second glimpses of genuinely human activity. But, more often than not, it’s the ‘serious’ stuff that receives airtime. The ‘will you be my boy/girlfriend’ talks and the blow-up arguments. Chit-chat on the Island, so the producers would have us believe, is dominated almost exclusively by self-absorbed conversation: ‘Why did you pick me for the date?’ asks Amber to Jamie, or, as Olivia echoes following a ‘DMC’ with Chris, ‘is it actually true that you’re falling for me?’ Love Island, in this way, brutally represents the elements of human nature that modern society forces us to repress in polite conversation; the obsession with sex, love, relationships and ourselves.  It embraces unashamedly that tendency to self-aggrandisement, laying bare in its purest form the human need for recognition that we usually internalise, or at least address subtly. When Gabby complains that she hasn’t been picked for the date, despite being in a supposedly blissful coupling with Marcel, she’s tapping into the inherent desire among all of us to have our praises sung and our personalities valued by another, regardless of how much attention we already receive.

There’s something quite masochistic about it all which we can’t get enough of, as we watch grown adults demean themselves daily on live television. There, in the claustrophobia of the villa, in the vivid colour and heat and thick of it all, the contestants are beyond the realm of civilisation and conventions of sociability: that’s why we venerate those who do show the slightest inkling of it (I’m thinking of Chris and Kem here).  Theo, when waltzing in and declaring himself more than ready to ‘tread on the toes’ of his male companions, or Montana, when proudly revealing that she ‘got some’ on live TV by going ‘on top’, is appealing to the innate animalistic behaviour and desires most of us possess but which society silences, as well as our desire to share these experiences with others. Ultimately, we kind of envy their narcissism and carelessness for what people think. They seem to get away with it, since that’s the very point of the show- to find love by any means possible. 

Just like Jekyll knew Hyde was the innate representation of himself, Love Island and its values are the beating heart of modern-society; the characters being manifestations of certain aspects of ourselves that we’d rather not recognise. And although we love to hate it, we also hate the fact that we love it. And I can guarantee most of us do.

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