How Love Island’s Alex became an incel icon

At first the nation’s loveable sweetheart, Alex has now become an idol for toxic masculinity.

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This year’s Love Island has caused more controversy than most. Rather than headlines about recouplings and challenges, the conversation surrounding the show has been dominated by topics such as mental health, developmental disorders, and abuse.

Adam Collard, one of this year’s contestants, has already received widespread criticism for his behaviour in the villa, with Women’s Aid issuing a statement warning that his treatment of fellow islander Rosie Williams signalled “gaslighting” and showed early signs of emotional abuse. But while Adam has been making the biggest headlines of this year’s contestants, Alex, the handsome doctor struggling to find a match, has been quietly making his own. Not among adoring fans or concerned charities, but among the online incel community.

Incel is shorthand for “involuntary celibate”, a term used to describe (largely) men who are not only serially rejected by women romantically and sexually, but also feel that they are being denied sex that they are in some way owed. Their justification for this entitlement is rooted in the fact that they consider themselves physically attractive, or at least think they are “nice guys”. This has caused them to develop a universal hatred of women for repeatedly rejecting them despite these perceived good qualities. Born in the depths of Reddit and 4chan, the term entered public discourse after the south California shooting by “incel hero” Elliot Rodger in 2014, and re-emerged earlier this year following the Toronto van attack by self-proclaimed incel Alek Minassian.

When it comes to Love Island’s Alex, he fits the perfect archetype of an incel: he’s stereotypically attractive, an A&E doctor who saves lives, has indicated that he feels he is owed attention, and has, generally speaking, failed to secure it. Incels have flocked to Reddit and 4chan to support “our boy” Alex, seeing him as a mainstream reinforcement of their incel beliefs. This fandom was bolstered by the nation’s own (and admittedly waning) Alex fandom – with the Twitter hashtag for the show previously rife with support for Alex. For his incel fanbase, the widespread support became the perfect rationale for their own incel-related gripes: How could the nation’s successful, attractive, loveable sweetheart still not manage to get a girlfriend?

Alex also makes the perfect incel icon because of his angry outbursts when he faces rejection. Many of Alex’s online incel fans have jumped on these toxic explosions to support their view that women are to be hated for their sexual rejection; referring to Alex’s failures as a “punishment”, and aggressively urging Alex to “pump and dump” the girls who have rebuffed him thus far as revenge. “Why are women so spiteful and why do they hate the idea of anyone bettering their situation?” one 4chan user said. Many incels even see themselves in Alex, with posts like “I’m living vicariously through your [Alex’s] success” and “I can pretend it's me but more attractive and ripped,” in reference to Alex potentially getting to have sex.

And for much of the incel community, Alex isn’t just a bolster to the cause, but the incel representation they’ve wanted on Love Island since the show’s reboot.  “Love Island is a TV show for Chads and Stacies” reads the top post for Love Island on Reddit’s r/Braincels page, dedicated to incel culture, just days before the start of the new series. (For those unversed: a Chad/a Stacey are the opposite of an incel; the slang terms for men and women who are traditionally attractive and sexually active.) Alex is a welcome change for incels because they can see their rejection, their rage, and what they think should be the public’s acceptance of their beliefs played out on national television.

These comments are unsurprisingly in and amongst posts of racism, abuse, and violent misogyny (occasionally, though, some genuine Love Island commentary.) Several threads have even become their own miniature incel community, where men will go to share not only their opinions of the contestants, but to receive misguided advice on how to approach women.  

But in last night’s episode Alex’s luck turned. He had a choice between two girls, much to the awe and dismay of his incel supporters. “Alex is becoming a Chad,” betrayed users posted; “there’s hope”, “Am I dreaming?” more optimistic posters exclaimed. But whether or not Alex finds love before the leaving the villa, one thing is certain: he’s solidified his place in Love Island history as the first incel icon. And whether or not he leaves Mallorca with a girl by his side, he’s already inspired the incels watching him.

Sarah Manavis is the New Statesman's tech and digital culture writer.