Love Island is back and inescapable. Now the addictive reality TV show which reveals a world of drama, suntans and cringe-worthy chat is pestering our screens in the winter. Although it offers nightly entertainment and a much-needed distraction from the classic cold of a miserable British winter, is the show conversely damaging both the contestants and viewers’ ethics by encouraging bullying behaviour and fostering prejudice?
Already, Twitter users have whipped up a storm by comparing certain contestants inappropriately to cartoon characters. For instance, Connor, with his extremely white teeth, has been likened to a teenage mutant ninja turtle. Comparing Nas – of Caribbean and South Asian heritage – to Aladdin has led to Siannise Fudge receiving strong criticism for fuelling the fetishisation and othering of South Asian people in Britain. Other online criticism has been directed at posh-boy Ollie who has received considerable backlash for hunting wild animals and for his generally classist ego.
The show has normalised a culture of bullying and allowed contestants, made vulnerable by being thrust into the spotlight, to be judged harshly on their behaviours (though sometimes deserving of critique) and appearance by millions of viewers. Previous contestant “Muggy” Megan received large amounts of trolling after the show, even receiving death threats for looking ‘fake’ after getting plastic surgery. She stated she was completely unprepared and shocked by the personal and targeted hate that she received after leaving the villa. Likewise, Molly-Mae from the last series, labelled “Money-Mae” by trolls, revealed she received counselling after the show to help her cope with the online hate she received and prepare for re-entering the real world. Hayley Hughes was also ridiculed for not knowing what Brexit was and ultimately labelled as a dumb blonde, though some viewers questioned whether her naivety was all a performance.
Although these contestants have arguably put themselves in the public eye to be commented on, that does not justify the way viewers have rated them by their appearance, intelligence or behaviours. Especially in light of it emerging that contestants have often been directed and exploited by the show’s producers to maximise ‘entertainment’. In a recent interview, Kem – the winner of the 2017 series – admitted producers would often nudge contestants towards partners or set up conversations for them to have with other people to induce arguments or relationships. Arguably, these contestants are being manipulated for profit as if they were puppets rather than actual human beings. However, there is the alternative angle that some contestants appear happy to be controlled in this way, so long as they receive a contract with a company such as Boohoo after the show ends.
Not only does Love Island pose ethical consequences for contestants, but the show has raised powerful questions about the degree to which it affects the self-esteem and insecurities of viewers. It upholds a narrow representation of a “discriminatory standard of beauty” – privileging toned bodies with tanned white skin, glossy and probably blonde hair. Love Island has created a platform which encourages the impression that physical appearance matters most and makes it acceptable for contestants to be judged on this factor above all. Surely, the healthy message it ought to be sending to young and impressionable people, both contestants and viewers, is that it is what is on the inside that counts? It’s time for change.
– Lianna Tosetti