Love Island is bananas, but it also quickly inures you to its rhythms, tropes, and hazy logic. It’s uncanny, almost-recognisable-but-not-quite, and Clock Work Orange-esque in the way in which it is irresistibly introducing a new dialect of dating lingo into our collective consciousness. You’re a ‘melt’ if you feel more than superficially for someone; ‘grafting’ is working really hard (on getting someone to sleep with you). ‘Cracking on’ is a personal favourite, and actually really useful for its application to a relationship stage as yet unnamed, i.e., flirting with intent and all its corollary dynamics. We’ve all been ‘cracking on’ with people since the dawn of humanity; we just didn’t have a word for it*.
The Pantomime of Love Island
Love Island is the best and the worst programme I have ever seen. It is an emotional minefield and an ethical desert, a vacuum and a cornucopia, a microcosm and a universal lens for all the messy human stuff we repress and obsess over. It's a bit of a cultural phenomenon, and this season (4) claims devotees including Jeremy Corbyn, MPs Jess Philipps and Stella Creasy, Adele and Stormzy; 3.7 million people tuned in to Sunday's episode, the highest figures in ITV2's history.
Counterintuitively, the application of ‘rules’ to an extended bacchanalia is a pretty good ruse for throwing codes of decency out the window – if you’d like to.
The heart of Love Island’s appeal, I think, lies in observing the degrees by which its ‘islanders’ do or do not apply the moral codes of the world outside to their activities in the villa cocoon. It’s a tiny universe where, sure, there are boys and girls and drinks and night time and bleary mornings, just like ‘real life’, but there’s also a diary room; organised challenges; enforced (un)couplings; a thousand cameras, and fifty thousand pounds to win. Counterintuitively, the application of ‘rules’ to an extended bacchanalia is a pretty good ruse for throwing codes of decency out the window – if you’d like to. ‘It was a game!’ cried indignantly after snogging someone you know you oughtn’t in a ‘challenge’, or ‘we’re not boyfriend and girlfriend’ after unceremoniously ditching one lovesick 20-year-old for an indistinguishable, but more recently arrived, one.
Social mores – Girl Code, human decency – are variously clung to as a kind of touchstone in the heaving seas of sex and tears and wine, or gleefully shredded. Sleeping on a sofa rather than next to someone who isn’t the boy you’ve pledged your heart to after a fortnight of tanning together (Georgia! Sweet G!) vs hooking up with every size 8 brunette (Adam, you cad) because you can. It’s a kind of parallel universe. Time speeds up and slows down at once; Love Island is eternal. Dani and Wes and Caz(?) have been in that villa forever, young and beautiful and screaming and sweaty since the dawn of agriculture. This slippery temporality lends another strangeness to the ethics of the show because it can be employed on both sides of an argument: “Babe, calm down, we met three weeks ago”; “I can’t believe you’re doing this to me – we’ve been coupled up for three weeks!” They (whoever they are; versions of this conversation unfold every night) are both right. Stir crazy under the Spanish sun, the intensity of the experience sees relationships rise and fall like empires before an episode’s end – and don’t forget there’s one aired every day. On the one hand, it’s a pantomime, replete with villains (Megan, Josh) and heroes (Georgia, Jack and Danni); on the other it’s a weird, grey mass of moral ambiguity. The rules mean there are no rules.
In a scenario where your place in a villa, on television, in the tabloid press, is only secure so long as you find someone to ‘couple up with’, weaponised sexuality is laid bare.
In a scenario where your place in a villa, on television, in the tabloid press, is only secure so long as you find someone to ‘couple up with’, weaponised sexuality is laid bare. On Love Island, we know what’s going on when Ellie conveniently fancies Alex, i.e., the only single boy and therefore her ticket to at least a week’s screen-time. And we think, well, fair enough. In the real world, motives are more varied and less visible, but there’s not much difference between nodding along to a tedious small talk, with a promotion in your crosshares, and smiling vacantly when Eyal starts talking about vibes and constellations because you want to be on television.
It’s really, really easy to be snobby about Love Island. It is one-hundred-percent composed to appeal to as many people as possible on their most basic levels of interest: bright colours, social interaction, competition, sex. There’s something charming about its wanton self-awareness, though. The producers know what they’re doing, and it’s what we do to each other – or what we would if we were preternaturally attractive, twenty, a bottle of wine down and staring into the void of an endless summer. As Jarvis Cocker sang, “We dance/ And drink/ And screw/ Because there’s nothing else to do-oo-oo.” Hear hear.
*Clearly some people had a word for it, but it wasn’t in common parlance until this season’s series started on June 4th, back when we were young and naïve.
By Emily Watkins.