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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Life Divided: Love Island

Charles Britton and Bessie Yuill make sparks fly over the show that everyone's talking about

For: Bessie Yiull

I hate to make the obvious joke, but ITV’s Love Island did not seem like my type on paper. It’s easy to mock a show this shallow in concept. If you’re a humanities student like me, for example, you might feel it’s your moral responsibility to point out the show’s heteronormativity. And honestly? That’s fair, if a little predictable.

But for many of us, the show became a routine distraction from exams: a nightly check in on people living the dream. The sheer escapism represented by the lives of these beautiful human chess pieces is the ideal balm to a student’s irritations. This is an island with no lasting consequences! None of them have anything to do all day but tan and overanalyse their own interpersonal relationships! No one on Love Island has to worry about analytical reading at all – even if, judging by some of the strategic grafting, certain girls may be fans of Sun Tzu.

The only crime is being boring enough that you’re kicked off the island, like the plank of wood with a haircut they brought in and tried to pass off as a human being named ‘Mike’. Even he provided an inspirational positive message for today’s youth: with a complete absence of chat, or what could be called ‘anti-chat’, he still managed to disrupt several seemingly committed couples (even from outside the competition in Jess’ case). If he can do that, I can do anything.

It also (crucially for Oxford) provides a kind of in-between on the class scale for reality shows: the mix of accents means that the show’s neither a TOWIE or an MIC. In a supermarket allegory, it’s a middle-of-the-road Tesco’s, non-threatening to regulars of either Aldi or Waitrose (while the mum-friendly First Dates is naturally M&S.)

In these troubled times, Love Island has become a common ground for youth culture. Even if the friend of a friend you’re talking to has an objectively incorrect opinion, like ‘Chris is attractive’ or ‘Marcel bringing up Blazing Squad is not a funny joke anymore’, you can still bond over the compulsion to watch girls talk about what eggs they have in whose baskets. Feeling equally protective over Camilla is a guaranteed friendship starter, and in terms of communal experience, it literally wouldn’t be going too far to call 2017 Love Island a generational nexus equivalent to Woodstock in 1969, the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall or Big Brother’s debut in 2000. The hippie dream of togetherness through entertainment is alive and well-toned.

Against: Charles Britton

Attacking Love Island is like flogging a dead horse at this point but, like that cliché, some things bear repeating when the destruction of our entire civilisation hangs in the balance. I won’t slight Big Brother Extra Flesh Edition for being ‘trashy’ or ‘low-brow’ – I don’t go into Love Island expecting to expand my vocabulary, after all – but it is worth addressing the underlying evils the participants, and viewers at home, are subjected to.

First of all, the misnomer that it is ‘reality television’ still baffles me. All I see here is a program which cherry-picks people society deems attractive, perpetuating a constraining and unrealistic body ideal. Like the Labour Manifesto, 20 minutes of Love Island has me demanding representation: “For the many, not the few”. The interior designer needs to be sacked, too, after producing this ugly mishmash of modern villa and fluorescent furniture. This villa has more fairy lights than one of those abnormally large Swedish Christmas trees. The imperatives scrawled over the bathroom such as “soak” and “rinse” perhaps suggest that the producers doubt the participants’ intelligence, but I for one resent the idea of my bathroom dictating my exfoliating regime.

Most of this could be forgiven if Love Island had any grasp of innuendo, an art form I will defend to the last. The less said about Iain Stirling’s narration, the better: I’ve heard subtler euphemisms in a Carry On film. A game the participants had to play involved the men forcing sausages down their partners’ throats, complete with only the most tasteful slow-motion shots of women stuffing their faces with baked beans. Another had the guys applying sun cream to their bodies using the women as some kind of oversized sponge, a very inefficient method of application: I know, I’ve tried. Subtlety, thy name is not Love Island.

I could continue to shower Love Island with praise for its thrilling viewing of role models so shockingly bored out of their wits that they while away their time by lounging about, sleeping, and bitching all day. I could talk about how I cannot believe that ITV cannot afford to ply their stars with good quality booze yet can afford to get Colin Francis to DJ at a private gig, but at the risk of sounding as desperate as a Love Island contestant, I will simply say this: you’re better off trawling through Oxlove.




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