Love Island is a national phenomenon. Everyone from Stormzy to Jeremy Corbyn was commenting on the goings on in the Villa last year, and at its peak 2.9 million viewers watched Kem and Amber take the crown in last year’s final. Anything with this level of exposure is bound to attract some criticism, but Love Island divides opinion like nothing else. You are either for or against and each side has very strong opinions. Love Island has come under fire for everything from encouraging sexist attitudes to exploiting working class people. From reading some think-pieces, you’d think Love Island is responsible for half the world’s problems at this point.
One of the most common criticisms is that the highly gendered format of the show encourages sexist stereotypes. This is true, but, the biggest sexist part of the show has been how the country reacts to what goes on in the Villa. When Zara Holland had sex on the show in 2016 it ended up with her disgraced and losing her Miss Britain title, while the guy she had sex with just received high fives. However the 2017 show was much gentler with feminist Camilla raising the tone of the Villa significantly. We will have to see what this year’s Islanders are like, but so far they have improved every year since the first 2015 revival, in which the guys often used sexist and degrading language about the women.
I can’t lie, the body expectations on the show are damaging, to both men and women. Toned six packs and perfect tans are the baseline standard to these people and it represents a different world from the pasty cold Britain they come from. Although this is damaging, particularly for the young women who are the main audience, this is not a problem unique in any way to Love Island. Pretty much every single TV show will only cast beautiful people, whether as actors, presenters, or reality stars. Yes in some ways it is more damaging when presented as ‘reality’ but nowadays people tend to recognise that even reality TV is heavily produced and engineered. Even the narrator of Love Island, plays off this audience knowledge for comedic effect, mentioning things like the poor PA who had to set up all the candles just for two minutes of screen time.
The contestants are also undoubtedly bad role models to some; they laze around for weeks doing nothing but gossip and smoke and occasionally have sex. But this is just a realistic reflection of people. Smoking has been banned for the 2018 series, and alcohol has always been strictly limited on the show. Many TV programmes show sex these days, and often in violent or degrading circumstances in either true crime recreations or fantasy shows like Game of Thrones. Compared with that, teens watching two consenting adults have some fun is a lot less damaging than most depictions in other shows they’re watching. It can even actually be an important healthy example that combats all the stereotypes coming from two extreme ends of the spectrum: porn and romantic movies. Caitlin Moran applauds Love Island for helping her talk about the reality of dating with her teenage daughters. The unrealistic bodies on the show can even be helpful – in a world where you are bombarded with images like that constantly Love Island is unique in showing them get rejected and fail in their love lives, it also shows them being mean and silly and petty. Eight weeks of watching Islanders in action will definitely break the link in people’s minds between beauty and perfection, and young girls might see that beauty isn’t actually the key to being happy.
In the end it’s also just a TV show. I don’t think Love Island has that much responsibility to young teenagers since it is after the watershed and at that age it is the parent’s responsibility to police inappropriate telly. And when it comes to older viewers not everything on TV has to be full of morals and life lessons. The joy of Love Island is escapism, and watching attractive people make an a** of themselves on national TV is the greatest guilty pleasure for good reason.
-Daisy Thomson, Culture Editor