Against Love Island
Love Island is dominating television and social media this summer. The concept behind it is simple: place a group of good looking 20-somethings in a villa, where they have to couple up or dump each other depending on who they fancy, with the winning couple awarded £50,000. In this environment, drama and controversy are unavoidable. How can I not become heavily invested in the nation’s favourites, Dani Dyer and Jack Fincham, or seethe at ‘Muggy’ Megan Barton’s every action? Despite being an avid fan, I can’t help but question what the programme is actually portraying. Are programmes like Love Island healthy in their representation of love and relationships?
One of the main issues boils down to the show’s basic concept: the importance of physical appearance when choosing a partner. Contestants are chosen and rejected by other islanders based almost entirely on physical appearance. This idealises those who are tall, toned, have flat stomachs or large breasts, over those who may be kinder, more intelligent, or simply more compatible. In a relationship, sexual attraction is important, but Love Island promotes a love based solely on looks and what we, as a society, consider beautiful. The boys’ obvious preference for blonde, light-skinned women and the lack of attention dark-skinned contestant Samira Mighty has received suggests a discriminatory standard of beauty. For those who already have self-esteem issues, the show could cause some long-term damage to their confidence. Not the best message to be spreading to an audience made up of 1.5 million 16 to 34 year-olds, roughly 52% of its total viewers.
Love Island has also been accused of normalising abusive behaviour. The airing of Adam’s insensitive and cold treatment of Rosie, smirking while she told him that he had broken her heart, prompted hundreds of complaints by viewers to Ofcom. Women’s Aid were quick to issue a statement, saying that: “on the latest series of Love Island, there are clear warning signs in Adam’s behaviour. In a relationship, a partner questioning your memory of events, trivialising your thoughts or feelings, and turning things around to blame you can be part of a pattern of gaslighting and emotional abuse.” Once Rosie had been ‘dumped’ from the show, she issued a statement through the producers that she wouldn’t label Adam’s behaviour as “emotionally abusive.” This abusive behaviour has been brushed under the carpet and is therefore depicted as normal and acceptable.
These are but two serious issues we need to consider when watching programmes like Love Island. Thousands of young women and men will be watching this show, taking in every argument, every comment, and every action. Many of the contestants go on to become Z-list celebrities, flaunting their bodies, their relationships and their lifestyles on social media, and it is inevitable that many of them become role models to young people across the country. It is important that we take Love Island with a pinch of salt: this is not real life. This is an environment created for our entertainment and we must keep this in mind in order to avoid unhealthy relationship dynamics in real life.
-Luanna de Abreu Coelho
For Love Island
Visibility of problematic behaviour always has an inherent risk of promotion, but this comes along with opportunities for instigating conversations and raising awareness. While Love Island gets plenty of things wrong (read: the injustice of playing with the nation’s sweethearts Jack & Dani), reducing the show to just a promotion of abusive relationships condescends the viewership.
Most of us know about how Love Island has been in the news recently, with the conducts of islander Adam to his partner Rosie replicating classic abusive tactics like gaslighting. Of course, I would prefer for the likes of Rosie to not have to be sacrificed as martyrs, or for abusive traits to not be under the category of “entertainment”. However, we live in a culture where many toxic dating behaviours are still present. They’re inevitably going to arise on a reality dating show, and so I would prefer for them to be exposed on our TV screens instead of cut out in the editing room. I would prefer for people across the UK to be able to sit in the comfort of their living rooms and point at the screen while saying “they should not treat another human being like this”, instead of living in blissful ignorance.
I’m grateful that we now have a template in Adam and exemplars of other worrying behaviours in the villa. Away from the subjective and intimate nature of a relationship, if we recognise ourselves in Rosie (or even Adam), then we can have a more detached view of when things aren’t right. We can learn the warning signs and see the division between a ‘player’ and an abusive partner. Education and politics have failed on numerous occasions to actively combat domestic abuse. They have failed to educate young people on what a healthy relationship is and failed to put in appropriate prevention methods. But when we see the buds of abusive traits on one of the biggest television shows in the country, it can have tremendous effects.
Love Island is not just the show, but the discourse around the show. Check out Twitter every night and read Women’s Aid’s fantastic statement. Pop culture creates immediate impact, and after Adam smirked at Rosie’s confrontation, the conversation around domestic abuse went into turbo-boost. Unhealthy relationships are not eradicated overnight by legislation, but chipped away by conversations about the culture we live in.
Love Island does what any reality show does – put a fun house mirror up to our real world where all the subtleties and nuances are warped into intense distortions. While we should rightly criticise the bends reflected back at us, we should also value that at least we can magnify and inspect the intricate details of our dating world.
Love Island is not perfect and can be uncomfortable to watch. The show portrays ugly truths about body diversity and racism that say disturbing things about society. I’m also still fuming about how the producers did the dirty on Dani and manipulated her emotions. Sadly, it’s inherent flaws of the reality TV genre. But I am still comforted by the notion that, as a nation, we recognised toxic dating behaviours and called them out for justice. We can’t condescend the audience by assuming that they can’t participate in a healthy dialogue about unhealthy relationships. Love Island analysis can transpire into viral tweets and memes, as well as stimulating social commentary on the show. The conversations that shows like Love Island introduce are healthy and needed – hence why I will continue tuning in every day to be a part of that dialogue.