It’s been hard to get away from the buzz around Love Island this year. The ITV2 show has pulled in its highest ever ratings, with 2.95 million tuning in for the first episode and more expected to watch this week’s final.
For those who haven’t had the pleasure of watching, the premise is as follows: a group of singletons are sent to live together in a villa for seven weeks. Contestants then couple up and try to convince the public to keep them on the island in a bid to win a cash prize. Over the course of the series, contestants are able to “recouple”, and the dynamic is given a shake-up by new arrivals, some of whom are exes.
After reading about the Love Island hype, I decided to watch the first episode. In it, the contestants were invited to pick their partners. Of course they weren’t given the opportunity to get to know their potential suitors first – it was just a case of lining the bikini-clad girls up in front of the men and the decisions were made on the spot.
It didn’t take me long to discover the show was not for me – these were not my people. But that doesn’t mean I’ve been able to forget about the show’s existence. All summer Love Island has been hard to ignore, and with four times as many people applying to go on this year’s series than to Oxbridge, we have to face up to the fact that the show isn’t just some bizarre spectacle for people to have on in the background while they eat their tea. For many young people, appearing on the show is an aspiration.
I recently saw a social media post from a parent whose 12-year-old daughter was begging her to let her watch Love Island because all her friends at school were watching it. The thought of adolescents watching the show gives me chills down my spine. Love Island teaches young people that a person’s worth can be judged solely by their appearance, that partners can be dumped, swapped and stolen with no consideration for other people’s feelings, and that friendships and relationships are just a game.
Many of the contestants have had cosmetic surgery, despite the fact that they are all in their twenties. Love Island normalises edited bodies, bodies that have been injected and cut and put through physical trauma to fit into the western ideal of what it means to be attractive.
Adverts for breast enlargements have been broadcast during the breaks, and as if that’s not damaging enough, some contestants have had their “before” pictures hunted down and scrutinised by hundreds of thousands of social media users.
Perhaps one of the most disturbing things about popularity of the programme is the fact that the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime give most households access to an abundance of brilliant, funny, moving, informative and entertaining films, series and documentaries. There are scripts out there that writers have spent years developing, characters who stay with you forever, stories that make you think and feel. The mind boggles at the idea that watching people having endless conversations about what “type” they go for is considered entertainment.
It would be nice if next year we could just cancel the show altogether. Let’s replace it with a programme about kind people who have overcome adversity or fought for something they believe in. We have a responsibility to look after young people, and Love Island isn’t doing them any favours.