There is no greater, more frequent lie than a morning mutter of, “I’m never drinking again.” We’ve all said it – head throbbing, mouth carpeted with fuzz, bile stinging the deep, dark chambers of our nostrils – and we’ve all meant it, too. It’s easy to mean it in the morning. But by the time night comes around… well. Obviously we didn’t literally mean it. Obviously we are going to drink again.
This same cycle seems to be playing out with ITV’s Love Island, the reality dating show that has been running for seven years. Last year the media regulator Ofcom received almost 25,000 complaints after a vicious argument on the show; viewers found it alarming and were troubled that producers did not separate the quarrelling contestants. On Twitter, where a single episode of Love Island can generate as many as 320,000 posts, people began to claim that they would never watch the show again. They would – they said – refuse to tune in next year.
And now next year is here, and Love Island’s launch episode peaked at three million viewers, half a million more than 2021’s premiere.
We all do things that we know we shouldn’t – things that would be extremely hard to justify if scrutinised by someone with a gavel and a wig. We eat sausages despite the horrors of factory farming, and buy clothes without checking whether they were made by exploited workers. But if you’re not ready to give up cheap meat and cheaper mini-skirts, then I implore you: give up Love Island. Turn the telly off.
In recent years we have reassessed the disturbed, twisted nature of early 2000s reality television. Most recently, the journalists Sirin Kale and Pandora Sykes released a hit BBC podcast Unreal: A Critical History of Reality TV. But it is wrong to assume that unethical reality TV is a thing of the past. Love Island knows how to appear more progressive than the out-and-out bear-baiting of Big Brother, The X Factor or There’s Something About Miriam, but it’s still got the same rotten core.
The cast of Love Island are routinely misled by producers (in a separate incident last year, 5,000 people complained to Ofcom after contestants were shown out-of-context pictures of their partners seemingly being unfaithful). People who take part in the show have to quit their jobs for what is thought to be just £250 a week – indeed, some struggle financially after their series ends. On top of this, contestants are exposed to some of the most hate-filled comments on the internet: about their bodies, faces, accents, dreams and desires. Two former contestants and one former host have killed themselves. And yet you continue to watch.
I myself – in this very publication – have sung the praises of the Love Island in the past. Once upon a time, I considered it a vehicle for mainstream discussion of thorny issues such as masculinity, sexism and consent. That was before anyone died. The mother of Sophie Gradon, a former contestant who killed herself 2018, has called the show “a misuse of the vulnerable”. And yet you continue to watch.
By tuning in to Love Island you are directly contributing to the exploitation of young people – and for what? The show is dull, with 30-second snippets of drama stuck on the end of stretched-out episodes. There is no possible way Love Island could ever be worth the risk it poses to its contestants’ mental health, but it doesn’t even come close. If twelve months ago you said you would never watch again, then I implore you to stick to your word.