Loath as I am to agree with Piers Morgan, Love Island is for morons

Why do highly educated, middle-class people go mad for the show?


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I come late to the ghastly party that is Love Island (9pm, 11 June) – and now I’m finally here, plan on leaving as early as possible. My coat is on, the Uber is booked. I could, of course, hang around a bit, pretending that it’s just like Shakespeare, only with whiter teeth and better waxing. Standing in a corner with my piña colada, I could probably work up some guff about how it reveals men to be – boo hoo – just as vulnerable as women when it comes to dating (seriously, these are the kinds of things perfectly intelligent people say about it). But why should I lie? Reluctant as I am to agree with the egregious Piers Morgan, this is for morons. Watch it for too long – more than about eight minutes, say – and a part of you dies: the part of you that thought you had some self-respect and, well, a brain.

As I write, the latest news from ITV2’s festival of narcissism and rank stupidity is that everyone hates Hayley; that Laura and Wes have become the first couple to spend the night alone in the Hideaway; that Eyal has kissed Megan; and that Alex is still less tanned than everyone else. Which reminds me. Not only is Love Island a realm untouched by global news, books, films, music or culture of any kind (unless you count couples yoga). It also remains, so far as I can see, something of a sun protection-free zone, which is a bit weird, given that Superdrug is its proud sponsor. Shouldn’t Alex (a junior doctor) be fussing round with the factor 50 rather than having spoony heart-to-hearts with the aforementioned Megan (naughty Eyal: he might drone on about auras and stuff, but in truth, he’s as driven by the “energy” inside his trunks as any of them).

This is a world in which 26 is over the hill, playing it cool involves giving a girl a nice “slap on the arse” (copyright: Hayley), and the words “living in the moment” are spoken with the same gravity that a bishop delivers the liturgy. The idea – in case you don’t read the Daily Mail – is that couples pair off, and the better to make sure they do, those who find themselves sans partner will soon be wheeling their carry-on luggage out of the villa door (it’s in Spain, I think, though its sanitised, airless neutrality could be almost anywhere apart from – for obvious reasons having to do with the weather – Bridlington or Filey).

You may not want to hear my theory about why a certain kind of highly educated, middle-aged, middle-class person is mad for this drivel, but I’m going to give it to you anyway. Those of us who went to big, mixed-sex, somewhat riotous comprehensive schools have been here before: the never-ending fashion parade; the eternal seven-day-a-week quest to get off with someone (anyone!); the noise and the shouting and the rubbish, drunken frottage. We’ve no reason to want to revisit it; the thought of doing so makes us feel vaguely ill.

For those who went to posher schools, however, this stuff clearly comes as purest novelty. Throw in a desperate desire not to seem snobbish, and what you get is the pseudo-intellectualisation of something that really doesn’t require too much discussion. Do get over it. Randy young people like sex, and dream of being loved, and this makes them act a bit silly sometimes – especially when they know they’re on the telly.

Love Island, you gather, won’t be one of the shows available to view on board any of the planes owned by Kazi Shafiqur Rahman, an East End boy who thinks of himself as the “halal Richard Branson”, and who dreams of running the world’s first sharia airline. Then again, choosing an in-flight entertainment programme is for him still a long way off. At present, Rahman has one 19-seat plane, which remains in a hangar like some giant toy, quietly awaiting a route. Watching Channel 4’s comical documentary How to Start an Airline (10.30pm, 13 June) it was hard to know what Rahman was thinking at first – until you realised that he wasn’t really thinking at all. Conducting top-level meetings in the Biggles Bar at Lydd airport, he was like a small boy with a new box of Lego: all the things he could build in his head. 

Love Island (ITV2)
How to Start an Airline (Channel 4)

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article appears in the 15 June 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Who sunk Brexit?

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