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14 July 2017

Why is Love Island so Tory?

A conservative conspiracy in tiny trunks.

By Anoosh Chakelian

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Love Island as much as the next out-of-touch guilt-ridden liberal – but something sinister is bubbling beneath its smooth chlorine surface. In recent days, I’ve started shouting at the screen, not in my usual “THE RECOUPLING IS UPON US GIRD YOUR LOINS” way, but in the “No, junior employment minister, you are mistaken” way I reserve for chastising my radio.

You see, much like The Muppets have been accused of left-wing propaganda, I am beginning to feel Love Island is a conservative conspiracy. Its tools of manipulation? Budget volleyball nets, tiny trunks and strip-lit dorms. Its enablers? The blind eye of the Majorcan authorities, and the entire British television-viewing public. Its agents? Men with ham arms and quiffs and the shiny women who have to endure them. It’s a sweaty, lurid conservative pageant – and we’re all watching.

For those uninitiated readers still winding up their wirelesses, Love Island is a dating game show on ITV2. It’s sort of half Big Brother, half Take Me Out – or so they want you to believe. What it is really is a display of some of the most cringey passé social conservatism since Theresa and Philip May’s “boy jobs and girl jobs”. Except with other types of jobs too.

Yes, when they’re not having sex on camera, they’re talking about who is. And yes, they are unbothered about quite how naked they always are. But this doesn’t mean they aren’t old-fashioned pearl-clutchers underneath it all.

Putting aside that the island is a creepy conservative paradise of uniformly straight couples (no one is gay in this, unless they are being insulted), the contestants themselves are apparently mouthpieces of the old-school Conservative Party before David Cameron wafted in with his breadmaker and fruity ideas about equality.

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First, let’s look at the wooing – which is how they’d definitely describe it, being so behind-the-times. Or courting. One woman, called Camilla, looked doubtfully thrilled when her Calvin Klein model love interest informed her that he understood what was “going on in that little head”. She replied that she found him “interesting”, which is the sort of half-hearted response women in Georgian England had to give to bad-breathed vicars praising their aptitude at the pianoforte.

Then there was an entire public proposal staged by the floppy-haired contestant Kem – because he wanted someone he had been dating for a couple of weeks to be his girlfriend. This is either piously straight-laced – no holding hands until we’re officially Boyfriend and Girlfriend! Two dates means we’re exclusive! – or just a very long-delayed Year Nine romance. It was done via numerous smartphones, after all.

This whole show’s obsession with coupling up and locking your partner down is basically a feverish display of right-wing moral panic about “hook-up culture”; a pro-marriage broadcast. The term “wife material” does come up worryingly often.

Further Tory dating methods on Love Island include asking other men’s permission for asking a woman out – or even asking permission to talk to one. Muscular Mike Pences, the lot of them.

Then there’s the reaction to one of the men breaking down in tears. Poor Chris has been having a tough time on the island, missing home and battling gender norms by occasionally having the audacity to cry. When things unravelled with his Love Island wife, I mean, date, he was told in the final dumping salvo: “Don’t cry again because that’s the whole reason we’re in this situation.”

Woah. Is Love Island really still stuck in a time when men don’t cry? When exactly did this backward little landmass break free from the mainland, and float off never to progress again? Was it during World War One when soldiers with shellshock were shot at dawn? Is there a whole separate house we never see, where left-handed contestants are being forced to write with their other hand, having their knuckles thwacked with a ruler?

I know everything is dismissed as Brexit television these days. But this is truly it – a lonely little island taking us back to a time when conservative ideals reigned, and men who had their hearts broken would just grimace and take a bit of extra snuff at the club that evening. Love Island is Brexit Britain. Except in Majorca.

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