Addicted to Love (Island)


Will Mapplebeck turns to his flatscreen for virtual romance.

Like most addictions, it started harmfully enough. A spot of toothache leaving me in need of escapism and I found myself sitting in front of ITV 2’s structured reality hit Love Island last week.

A promise to myself only to watch only the one night and switch over to BBC 4 disappeared like a playboy’s midnight promise and I found myself addicted to my 9pm to 10pm appointment to view.

If you haven’t seen it, Love Island is the intellectual equivalent of a warm bath. Strangely beautiful people, some of whom without a great deal upstairs, not doing much at all apart from ‘cracking on’ with each other. It’s utterly, utterly futile but entertaining all the same.

One night I found myself helpless with laughter as the couples completed a challenge which involved building a tent blindfolded, swapping clothes under a sleeping bag and then eating giant hotdogs. At times it looked like a Nietzschean version of It’s A Knockout.

The funniest thing was that there was no obvious point to this, no prize, no reward by ways of progression in the game. It was just a way of generating enough content to fill the gaps between commercial breaks.

And if you want an example of cross-platform marketing look no further. Literally everything the islanders wear or use is advertised, everything from the bikinis they wear to the waterbottles they drink from is available for sale via a smartphone app. This is the Truman Show by the sea.

Although it’s a programme very much about sex – suggested and hinted at but never seen – it also has a strangely innocent, playground quality. The boys and girls gather like children to talk each other in corners of the villa. Couple often go on ‘dates’ which appear to involve little more than a glass of warm Prosecco in the villa’s car park. A kiss is seen as a major commitment, as Dan astutely uttered through his impossibly white teeth the other day – a kiss on the island is “like a shag” in the outside world.

The voiceover adds to this post-modern, everything is rubbish really, fun. For example, relishing the irony of contestants accusing each other of playing games on a reality TV contest which offers a prize of 50,000 quid or joking that instead of gossiping about each other contestants are in fact discussing the merits of a directly elected second chamber.

You see, for a programme like Love Island to work we need to think we’re superior to the parade of gender tropes – bad boy, slutty girl, nice but dim etc – lounging on the decking. That’s probably why the programme’s rare venture into political debate went viral. In a pop culture/politics cross over event of seismic proportions, contestants started discussing Brexit and Hayley from Liverpool asked if it was about trees. Cue much laughing from the guiltily watching intelligentsia who tell themselves this isn’t a gameshow but a self-aware examination of gender politics.

In fact, the discussion that led up to Hayley’s Tree comment revealed knowledge about the basics of trade and travel. Certainly about the same as you’d find in any other situation outside the policy bubble. But if you want detailed political insight watch Newsnight. I’d write more, but I have to go, it’s re-coupling night tonight.