A Love Island Divided?

Katie McCormick discusses whether many people's dismissals of Love Island have roots in bigotry.

Love Island is a show where, whether you are an enthusiastic fan or have never watched an episode, you will surely have heard inexplicably large amounts about it. For two months of the year it is all folks seem to be able to talk about, and the other ten months of the year are filled with anticipation for a new season. Despite this incredible amount of attention, few shows seem as capable of dividing opinion. But can the nation be swayed by this reality drama or are the shallow contestants all that people see?

Is there a stigma around Love Island? Most reality TV shows seem to get stigmatised in this way to some extent. Think Keeping Up With the Kardashians or even Dance Moms. These are the kinds of shows ‘nobody watches’ - reserved only for the hot-take on the weekly episode of Gogglebox. The idea that there may be notions of classism or sexism towards shows produced for pure entertainment seems contrived by public trolls.

People choose to watch what they want. They even curl up six nights of the week to watch the drama unfold. Of course, trolls try to sour something people enjoy with negative comments that no one needs or asks for. In watching the show, the Islanders do questionable things with actions recorded and shown on screen. These actions are then up for debate. But are these a question of an Islander’s character for the public to dwell on or a reason for trolls to belittle people who get enjoyment from watching the show?

People watch reality television shows for different reasons. These range from it being fascinating to see a group of one percenters live their lives to seeing what happens when we trap singletons in a villa for two months. Neither of these indicate that watching these shows has anything to do with a viewer’s intelligence.

Who are we to judge a person’s watching habits? Never having watched an episode of Game of Thrones in your life does not make you an idiot. Why is Love Island any different? Is its structure? Its aim of viewership? Take all that away and the challenge is unearthed beneath the show: find love and win money. It’s an easy concept that raises the stakes and makes the game being played a bit more interesting.

Of course, the Villa isn’t without its controversy. Islanders do and say a lot of things that shouldn’t be caught on camera. It is clear that it all goes back to the aim of the show. That is to get people to watch it. Do they care about the love in their Villa? Only if it increases their viewing figures. This strategy clearly works when you consider that adolescents between the ages of 18-29 made up 43% of the show’s ratings for the 2019 series.

Mocking Love Island and its fans is common. Nonetheless, an interesting question is whether the hate is motivated purely by the show’s concept or by something else. Swirling online these past few months have been rumours of the showrunners’ disregard to the islanders’ mental health and wellbeing. After a past Islander tragically ended their life it was reported by the official BBC website that future casts will be offered therapy and counselling.

The fact that this is not trending on twitter instead of who picked who in the last recoupling shows how twisted the narrative about this show is. This is not just about classism and sexism, it is about mental health, what the showrunners are doing to protect the islanders during their stay and immediately following. Discussing the show in terms of whether it makes you lose brain cells seems trivial when compared to the loss of life or even Islanders receiving death threats from the outside. Lest we forget these contestants are ordinary people up until their series begins airing.

It is sad that so many people seemingly have nothing better to do in their lives than to try and ruin something other people are passionate about. On one side, it seems legitimate to raise concerns about the exploitation of the cast for being overly sexualised to boost ratings. On the other hand, much of the criticism seems significantly less nuanced than that.

Does it put you at a lower intellectual standard to enjoy Love Island or any other reality television show? It certainly does not seem obvious that it does. It seems that the only reason Love Island viewers have a worse reputation is because of the sexual nature of the show. However, as is the case for many reality shows, this is a means of escape. Keyboard warriors will troll people for watching anything nowadays.

It cannot be denied that Love Island is a ground-breaking reality series. This is evidenced not just by the viewing figures but also by the many spin-offs in different countries. Love it or hate it, the people who sit down to watch are no different than those of us who would rather indulge in a drama or a game of football. It is simply a form of entertainment doing its job. Disliking a popular show does not give you the right to belittle others because of your particular taste.