Let me get this out the way first: I’ve never watched Love Island in my life, apart from through the widely-shared clips on social media. Secondly, this isn’t going to be some annoying, “God I can’t believe you watch that rubbish” judgement. I honestly couldn’t give a shit what people watch. Loads of my friends watch it, and I watch problematic stuff, as we all do in this day and age (don’t lie and say you don’t also fall asleep to the macabre yet soothing sounds of true crime).
But each year my social feeds get rammed with thinkpieces (guilty!), threads and viral tweets about how one guy is being toxic or another girl is gaslighting. There’s endless debates about who deserves to be turned into a national pariah and who warrants a fat Boohoo contract at the end.
From the beginnings of reality TV, all the way back to the first Big Brother series (Nasty Nick, for the heads that were there), you get the sense that television producers have always dreamt of creating a show that rams together loads of hot people, manufacturing the perfect conditions for them to either have sex, viciously attack one other, or just generally have a mental breakdown. And with Love Island, it seems like they’ve finally achieved the apex of these dreams.
Is it unmissable telly? Well, judging by how much my mates love it, it seems like the most watchable show ever made, so fair play. Is its sole USP that nearly everyone on the show is constantly displaying incredibly toxic (see: watchable) relationship behaviours? Surely, because if that isn’t the USP, then what is? Watching impossibly good-looking influencers having a jolly around a swimming pool? If I wanted to do that, I’d just go to Shoreditch House. They wouldn’t let me in because I’m not famous and kind of annoying, but still.
The closest thing I can compare the reactions to watching Love Island are – and, bear with me, this is a bit niche – The Guardian’s comments section whenever they post about boxing or MMA. Without fail, there is some jobsworth in there, complaining about head injuries. Literally every time.
As a massive fan and part-time practitioner of both boxing and MMA, it’s just an incredibly jarring and pointless thing to bring up. We know that head injuries and, tragically, some deaths occur from two of the most dangerous, legally-allowed sports in the world.
But it’s also incredibly exciting to watch the most physically-elite sportsmen and women punch and kick the shit out of each other until they often bleed or sometimes lose consciousness.
Is that problematic? Well, yeah, kind of. Being human is problematic, really. Loads of awful, terrible shit we watch has been totally normalised – the horse-depleting Grand National and torture porn films like Saw or Hostel, for example – and we just go along with it because it’s fun to view.
So it feels like constantly pointing out, endlessly picking apart and getting upset about the toxic relationship attitudes exhibited on Love Island is a bit like people complaining about violence in gory films, or adultery in porn. Yes, these behaviours are bad, but it’s what you signed up for.
Isn’t it hard to look away as the most physically-elite male and female influencers gaslight and emotionally abuse each other until they cry or become social pariahs? I mean, you should feel uncomfortable about it, as boxing and MMA fans do when we see athletes get knocked out or die, but isn’t that part and parcel of what makes it entertaining?
You might not like to admit it, but the whole reason you’re watching Love Island is to watch beef, tension and dramatics. So why complain about the toxicity? It’s OK to love and enjoy bad things sometimes. It’s called the human condition.
To be fair to the show, in the same way that boxing and MMA has become far, far safer since the ‘90s through repeated highlighting of its dangers, Love Island does seem to be doing a fairly good job of shedding light on and calling out these damaging behaviours. As do other organisations: domestic violence charity Refuge and Women’s Aid both released statements about the “misogynistic and controlling behaviour” shown in this season. But the fact that they even have to, about a semi-scripted reality show where past contestants have been lost to suicide, is a mad situation in itself.
Listen, I’m sure I’m going to get brutally cancelled for this, because people love Love Island. And just to reiterate, I have no problem with people watching and enjoying the show. It’s great reality TV, just as Francis Ngannou spark out Stipe Miocic is great mixed martial arts.
But I’ve never understood the constant, sustained furore at what is clearly such a problematic show; a show that pretty much has questionable behaviours ingrained into its fabric, its very essence, from the people that love and watch it religiously. Maybe just enjoy it for what it is: the most dangerous, legally-allowed reality show in the world.