The Love Island Effect

Doireann de Courcy Mac Donnell discusses comment culture

I had written this column three weeks ago. It was a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgment of the comment-culture that Love Island perpetuates. Comment culture is the need to remark upon and analyse everything. In an article published on; it was described as “where all people are invited to weigh in on all issues at all times, where expertise is devalued, and where people are moved to speak before they think”. On the fifteenth of February, Caroline Flack took her own life after falling foul of keyboard warriors, trolls, tabloids – the comment culture. When you google Caroline’s name, there is something deeply upsetting about seeing both her birth and death date. A column which was written to light-heartedly draw attention to what I saw as a negative societal trait had, in desperately tragic circumstances, turned out to hit the nail on the head.

In good conscience I couldn’t print what I had written in the last issue of the University Observer. In being so timely, it felt cruel. Now, weeks later, I read what I had written in a different light, a sadder light. After a lot of thinking, I decided to print this piece mostly as it was. To me by keeping this piece the same, it reminds me of how hindsight is utterly useless. In a perfect world, hindsight wouldn’t be required. It is also a reminder that once my words are put into the ether, I possess no control over their effect.
Recently, one of my closest pals went through a break-up. In short, she was devastated. I was there for her, although I have to admit I was surprised at her emphatic response. She herself wasn’t happy. She had acknowledged that she didn’t feel things were working out. It wasn’t until a few days after the break-up (a few days into utter-devastation and endless rehashing of every single detail) that I realised why the world was seemingly ending. I deduced that, from the beginning, she had unfortunately succumbed to the ‘Love Island Effect’.

To begin, I would like to acknowledge that Love Island is a carefully curated television programme. Because the dialogue is (probably mostly) unscripted, and humans are by nature unpredictable, it is easy to be drawn into the illusion that the show is ‘real’. It definitely is not. I am not discounting the emotions that the contestants feel (also – “contestants?!? –a major red flag), I am calling-out what we see onscreen. Life is not a time-bound idyllic holiday-like event with every need catered to, the only objective to court possible lovers, all presented before you (as I write this I’m thinking maybe this was the life of rich Victorians? See Austen’s Georgiana Darcy for details). Because finding a lover is the desired outcome of the show (and they live in paradise where worries are non-existent) the contestants have nothing else really to talk about. This, in my eyes, has created the Love Island Effect. It’s distinctive traits are easily recognisable; we begin with an incessant discussion and review of prospective mate; when matched, an expectation of exquisite experiences, over-the-top declarations of undying passion, sheer perfection; and when it goes to pot, this unwavering love becomes rage and devastation and begins the process of going over every second spent together to find the ‘true’ reason it didn’t work out.

I am sure it is a human trait to analyse someone you’re attracted to. Perhaps it is even animalistic – seeking out a good mating partner. But I find the level to which it is now commonly accepted to analyse your latest squeeze both exhausting and unhealthy. A break-up requires grieving, and can take a considerable healing process. This healing process is utterly hindered by a completely disproportionate analysis of every stinking detail that led up to it not working out. Sometimes I’m sure there are deep hidden secrets and motivations and cunning plots lurking beneath the surface. Most of the time, it was probably pretty obvious.

Even to qualify to become an Islander, the contestants must have a considerable social media profile and following. To me, there has to be a level of extreme self-consciousness to achieve this, a tendency to constantly be analysing one's looks, behaviour, appearance to the world. And if this is so deeply inherent in each individual, it is little wonder that when pooled together the tendency to analyse every movement explodes. The Love Island villa is a breeding-ground for this behaviour. What else could you possibly do stuck in a house and forced to find the love of your life among an extremely limited (admittedly beautiful, sculpted-by-the-gods Adonises and Aphrodites) group of influencers. As a wise friend once told me; “people are always looking for a ten. Tens just don’t exist! You have to work, you have to try. Eight is really good”.

Disclaimer: I am no ‘Pillar of Morals and Sense’. I was gripped by the last two summer seasons of the show. Only by determination and self-control did I manage to escape the grasp of the winter edition. But unfortunately it takes determination; every social media platform was utterly saturated, even my beloved current-affairs radio shows couldn’t avoid discussing it from time to time. 
Fear not, I am very aware that this is a piece analysing over-analysing. The irony is not wasted on me.  ____________________________________________________________________________

Re-reading this article, my biggest regret is that I hadn’t acknowledged the genuine human feelings that are hurt in the whole process. If it is in an idyllic villa, a luxurious London flat, or just a student bedroom in Dublin, this over analysis of ourselves and others causes hurt. Although comments may not have malicious intent, we have no idea the impact they have. When a Love Island couple announced their split this week, I scrolled through the comments below the post. Just weeks after Caroline’s Flack, and the subsequent out-pouring of kind intentions, hundreds of comments were posted. And that was just one of the many, many articles written on the situation. In a society where so many things are evolving for the better, the comment culture continues to fester.

In a world where I am lucky enough to have the opportunity to be anything, I will try to be kind.