It’s summer in the UK which means Love Island, the reality TV show that involves young singles finding love, is back. If you’re not talking about it, or desperately trying to increase you Instagram followers to be considered a contestant, then you’re rolling your eyes and wondering what’s wrong with the world.
Whether you live for the nightly drama or are desperately gazing elsewhere, Love Island’s popularity is undeniable. For those of you who haven’t the faintest clue what I’m talking about, let me explain the concept of the show in a nutshell;
Hosted by Caroline Flack, young singles move in to a Majorca-based villa over the summer aiming to find love. They must couple up with each other and make it through a variety of challenges, relationship tests and public voting rounds, aiming to not get dumped from the villa. However, the two members of the last couple standing face one final test; split the £50,000 cash prize evenly, or decide to keep it all for themselves.
But the fortune doesn’t end there for the winners; upon leaving the island they will find themselves with thousands more followers on their social media platforms. Even the contestants who don’t come first are offered sponsorship deals and given a head start in commencing their careers as social influencers. The level of fame and exposure that they receive has the potential to make them millionaires.
The figures speak for themselves; last year’s final attracted ITV2’s biggest ever audience with 3.6 million viewers ready to watch the finale of the summer of love. Last year’s final, which ended the fourth series of the show, was the most watched programme in its slot across all channels and the most watched programme for 16-34 year-olds, with 1.6 million viewers falling under this category.
In fact, the figures for series four made Love Island the most watched programme on a digital channel ever amongst 16-34 year-olds, excluding the World Cup. So what is it about Love Island, and perhaps reality TV in general, that makes it so successful? The casting of “ordinary people” as protagonists allows the public to feel more connected and empathise with people that they consider to be similar to themselves.
Ironically, however, the reality of the reality TV show is that these contestants are far from ordinary people, and they often have a head start to fame before entering the villa; last year’s winner Dani Dyer is the daughter of English actor Danny Dyer and this year’s Tommy Fury is the British professional boxer Tyson Fury’s brother. Granted, not all of the contestants have famous family members, but many of them have at least done some kind of modelling in the past.
Figures and social engagement aside, we must not forget the controversies that the show has sparked in recent years. Love Island has amounted a huge amount of backlash regarding mental health, gender equality and self esteem – so is it really worth it for ITV?
The impact the show has on the mental health of its contestants has recently come under scrutiny following the suicides of two former contestants.
The suicides have sparked calls for the safeguard of the contestants’ mental health, in addition to demanding better provision of aftercare when they leave the show. Indeed, the rapid rise to fame in such a short period of time can be overwhelming and difficult for individuals who are not accustomed to being in the public eye.
In May, prior to this year’s season airing, ITV outlined the key changes it had made to the show’s duty of care process. This includes enhanced psychological support, more detailed conversations with potential contestants concerning the impact of their participation, bespoke training for contestants on how to manage their social media and finances and a proactive aftercare package.
And yet, the show’s impact on mental health is not limited to those who directly take part in the show, but also its viewers. One of the most obvious issues that arises from a show based on nothing but physical attraction is the consequences it has on the body confidence and self-esteem of its young viewers.
Love Island is among the television programmes that raise concerns for the Mental Health Foundation precisely because it targets younger audiences who most probably already experience some kind of anxiety concerning their body. An ITV spokesman may have claimed that this year’s Love Island contestants “come from a diverse range of backgrounds,” but there’s nothing diverse about their sexualised body types. When young viewers watch these individuals every night gain fame for their looks, they are bound to idolise the way the contestants look.
In addition to the questions concerning mental health are those surrounding gender equality. Questions asking whether the show promotes gender equality or rather, damages it, are at the forefront of the show. An incident this season between newly coupled up Maura Higgins and Tom Walker exemplifies the debate;
Maura, the 28-year-old ring girl who openly discusses sex on the show in such a way that breaks with traditional gender norms whereby women are shamed for discussing their sexuality, won a night alone with Tom away from the other contestants. However, because of her somewhat open attitude towards sex, she faced comments from her own partner, as well as other women in the villa, questioning whether she would have sex with him on their night away, or whether she was “all mouth”. Maura had to remind her fellow female contestants that she had only kissed him three times which, when coupled with her open discussions of sexuality, does not mean she is obliged to sleep with him.
After being dumped from the villa, Tom appeared on This Morning and, when asked about the incident, responded with “it was lad banter gone wrong.” Viewers had to watch every male contestant in the villa laugh at the situation, egg Tom on and even provide him with contraception. If anybody would like to see a visual representation of toxic masculinity, then this scene provides exactly that.
And yet, the same woman sexually assaulted a younger male contestant the week before when she repeatedly tried to kiss him against his will. Almost 500 people complained to Ofcom about Maura’s predatory behaviour towards Tommy Fury, who is eight years younger than her. Tommy had politely declined Maura’s attempts to kiss him, but Maura was nothing but persistent. Had the roles been reversed, then ITV would have most probably come under direct fire for publicising sexual harassment and the male contestant would have most likely been sanctioned and removed from the show.
With all the controversy surrounding the show, is Love Island really worth it for ITV2? Will it eventually become too much to handle for the television channel?
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