“Is it wrong,” Michael Vaughan, the former England Test cricket captain, asked his 1 million followers, “that I am 42 years old and can’t stop watching #LoveIsland?!!!”
The idea of Vaughan – a man known for his graceful cricket and strong leadership inspiring England to a historic Ashes triumph – tuning in for a show that involves horny twentysomethings frolicking in the sun does, admittedly, seem a little unusual.
Also, Liam Gallagher surprised Jo Whiley at Glastonbury by telling her he missed Friday night’s festival coverage because of the show. “That’s where it’s at,” he explained. “I’ve gone to the dark side and Love Island it is.”
Certainly, Vaughan was not alone in posing his question. Indeed, this year’s Love Island – the fourth series since it relaunched in 2015 – is undeniably popular. Its nightly episodes on ITV2 have gained 600,000 viewers since last year, taking it to more than 2m and outgunning BBC2, Channel 4 and Channel 5 in the same slot.
Let’s face it, the premise of Love Island isn’t especially deep & meaningful: a dozen or so incomprehensively fit young men and scantily clad young women are sent to a villa in Spain and encouraged to couple up with each other (they don’t have to form boy/girl relationships although, one brief dalliance aside, Love Island has remained rather strangely heterosexual throughout its last three series). New contestants are thrown into the villa to test the strength of each couple’s ‘love’, while the public get to engage in their own mischief by voting for which islanders should go on dates with each other & to put the cat amongst the pigeons!
The reality show that traps contestants on an island and forces them to share beds may seem tawdry because, let’s face it …. it is. Yet it remains compelling to millions.
Amanda Stavri, the show’s commissioning editor, believes the fact that viewers get to see real sex – albeit badly lit sex, covered by duvets or towels or, in one instance, a cupboard door – has little to do with the show’s appeal. Make of that what you will…. !
“It’s what makes the headlines, but that’s a shame, because it’s only a tiny part of the bigger story,” she says. “We don’t want Love Island to be a grubby show. Yes, we include some sex scenes, but the truth is, sex is part of relationships and part of every couple’s journey. We’re not interested in the act itself, more why the couple have decided to take their relationship to the next stage and how it might impact the rest of the group.”
Perhaps surprisingly, given that the show has previously been comfortable broadcasting a discussion on “fingering”, Stavri talks a lot about striking the right tone. “We don’t want it to feel dark or full of conflict,” she says. “It’s got to be lighthearted, fun and relatable to the viewers at home. Because no matter how gorgeous those islanders are, they’re as vulnerable as we all are. Some of them are lucky in love, others are unlucky, but they’re all facing the challenges of starting a new relationship.”
It’s true that viewers get to immerse themselves in the islanders’ insecurities and vulnerabilities and unlike other shows, like ‘Big Brother’ it doesn’t feel like it’s milked completely gratuitously for the cameras. The most striking example of this came in series two, when Zara Holland found it impossible to find a partner, despite the fact that she was Miss Great Britain. In her desperation to find love, she embarked on an ill-advised liaison with a chap called Alex Bowen, who gave her the cold shoulder the next morning. It was difficult to watch, and even more painful when the organisers of Miss Great Britain decided to strip Zara of her title for failing to “uphold the responsibility expected of the title”. Despite such controversy , it certainly worked out OK for her: she manipulated the storm into a string of deals – her own clothing range & a column in Now.
And that’s why I despair. This sort of reality TV for the uninitiated gives young people the idea that 5 minutes of fame is worth more than years of hard work or ‘grafting’ – but I’ll have to change that, as apparently ‘grafting’ to Love Island fans is slang for when a guy is trying to get a girl to like him. A bit like flirting and it can be shortened to ‘graft’ or ‘g-rafting’ “Oh see Dave over there he’s grafting on Lisa”
Despite no major promotion, the show has slow-burned its way first to cult status and now mainstream acceptance, largely through word of mouth. Even after each previous series ended, social media buzz continued thanks to the accessibility of the stars, who are all on Twitter and Instagram, and who it appears have largely remained friends with each other.
So, what are the other magic ingredients – apart from sex?
The scheduling – Love Island is on for over an hour every night at 9pm which helps to keep the show in the national conversation: viewers feel as if they have to watch in order to have anything to contribute at the work water cooler. Then there’s the fact that the show is incredibly reactive. There’s also the clubby nature of being a Love Island fan – an essential part of embracing the show is understanding the lingo used by islanders: have you been pied (ditched)? Is someone acting muggy towards you (treating you like a fool)? Do you need to graft or crack on with someone else (put more effort into your courtship, or chat up another islander)? All of these terms make up the modern-day lexicon of love, and so for anyone over the age of 25, it’s an eye-opening education.
And then there’s also the fact that Love Island is funny, thanks in no small part to Scottish comedian Iain Stirling’s voiceover. His narration doesn’t attempt to disguise the sneaky tricks producers are playing, instead turning them into an in-joke about how modern TV shows work. “We want to give Alex and Montana all the privacy they need,” he quipped recently, “so our cameraman has hidden behind some lavender.”
So, let’s get to whether you should let your kids watch it.
Well, it is on after the watershed of 9pm so I’d say, very obviously, not young children or tweens as its content isn’t suitable, appropriate or the best way to pass on your values about love and relationships to your children.
Barbara Ellen wrote an interesting piece in The Guardian that Love Island is only the latest in ‘sneak porn’ TV invidiously encroaching and masking as main stream TV, following a similar formula to Geordie Shore, Ex on the Beach & Ibiza Weekender. Getting young, naive people drunk and encouraging them to have sex in the name of light entertainment is exploitative.
Choose your view, take your stance. However, how about using the programme as ‘Pause to Ponder’ moments & using ‘Love Island’ to open up discussions, and ‘talk & teach’ your kids your values as you sit and watch it with your teenagers?
I used to watch’ X Factor’ & ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ when my kids were teenagers & I felt it was important to point out that the problem with reality TV, in my opinion, was that it had become very vindictive. It became about torture and pain and Simon Cowell laughing in people’s faces. I didn’t want to pass on those values to my kids. I didn’t want them growing up ‘laughing at’ not ‘laughing with’ other people. So, I talked openly about that side to it.
Why not use the show as an opportunity to chat about relationships and don’t be afraid to comment on what you see or hear?
Don’t ban it from your living room. That makes it even more interesting to your kids! Don’t let them mindlessly watch it on their own without questioning what they are watching. Sit on the sofa and chat about what’s going on…. If you can all bear to watch people discussing fingering and blow jobs with your kids ?
Take the view that the show is more than just trashy escapism, and that it actually offers valuable life lessons for your kids who are curious, want to be part of the culture on social media talking about it, and involved.
See it as a rather staged model for what happens when your kids go out into the big wide world and start having to navigate the choppy waters of love and relationships. See it as an opportunity to sit and watch young people just talking about their feelings & point things out to your kids like, ‘Well, is he telling her the truth there?’ ‘I think she’s gaslighting him’ ‘What would you do in that situation?’
My advice is to learn the lingo like ‘Negging, Grafting, Melt, Muggy, Pied Off …so you can talk about them with your kids. (Negging is an act of emotional manipulation whereby a person makes a deliberate backhanded compliment or otherwise flirtatious remark to another person to undermine their confidence and increase their need of the manipulator’s approval.)
Talk about self-esteem and saying ‘No.’ Talk about the pressure kids feel they are under to have sex. Expand it to discussing #MeToo and sexual harassment if you want to, use it as a starting block for passing on your values around life. Talk about exploiting participants who are young, hormonal, naive, and perhaps a little star-struck, who view these shows as their big chance to become “reality stars”. (Note: only a few of them manage to do this, and most regret having on-screen sex.) Talk about alcohol & the culture of Saturday night binge drinking & explain the long-term consequences around all of these subjects.
So, how do you feel now about joining politicians, sports personalities, rock stars and millennials glued to the next few weeks of ‘Love Island? Prepared and ready?
Thanks to The Guardian