Love Island: The politics of reality TV

29 Jun 2018


‘Love Island’, or ‘the Big Brother of the snapchat generation’ as it is also commonly known, has become something of craze this summer. Being a part of the young demographic the show targets, I feel qualified to comment on the infectious fervour the programme has triggered; dominating conversations held in the girls’ toilets and school lunch halls.


Upon reading about the show online, I have encountered mature journalists dismissing its content as derogatory, mind-numbing and callous. As much as I too condemn the artificial, claustrophobic environment which puts the mental health of its contestants under immense strain, there is no denying Love Island’s stupendous following; becoming ITV’s most watched show of all time in attracting 3.37 million views upon the airing of its first episode. I therefore wish to highlight the useful nature of the programme in understanding the dynamics of modern society, beyond the portentous personas and petty bickering of its model-like contestants, and in contrast to the pessimistic attitude taken by ‘respectable’ journalists. 


Popular culture has been notorious for its racist undertones, yet despite perceived improvements, Love Island has exemplified the lingering influence of the issue and the urgent need for change. Out of the current fourteen contestants, eleven are of white heritage. The body of diversity on the show has rightfully triggered controversy throughout social media platforms; including the explicit “mixed race” preference of some women which has been criticised as ‘colourism’. Both black contestants Marcel Somerville (from 2017) and Samira Mighty (this year’s only black female contestant as of yet) faced immediate rejection in the show’s first episode as they were left to be ‘coupled’ with whoever remained rejected aside from themselves. After announcing her occupation as a dancer, Samira was also fired with questions by her female counterparts on her ability to twerk as they embarrassingly branding her in relation to an ignorant stereotype.


More shockingly, none of the women who have been brought into the villa as extras (a tactic used by the producers to evoke envy and trouble amongst the couples) have been of colour. Not only has this meant that the cast has become more dryly synonymous, yet proves the explicit racism of the producers who perceive black women as incapable of being more desirable than the predominantly white contestants, and to thus create dramatic tension. In all, the popularity of Love Island has given ITV the power to reshape perceptions of beauty in modern society as opposed to reinforcing them. This is why I urge its producers to transform the show into a positive landmark of change in eliminating the endangering message it is currently reinforcing into the naive perceptions of its young demographic. 


‘Gaslighting’ is a form of psychological manipulation that seeks to make its victim question their grasp of reality. Considering more women experience emotional abuse than physical (35% of those married to be precise), it is bewildering that as Love Island has proven, there is limited awareness surrounding the dangers of this malicious form of domestic mistreatment. Recently, the behaviour of licentious contestant Adam Collard sparked warning from the charity ‘Women’s Aid’ who stated there to be “clear warning signs” in his behaviour. This is no exaggeration. Adam’s initial abandoning of co-star Kendall Knight due to her ‘frigidity’, and his heartless separation with Rosie Williams who he claimed to be “too much”, are explicitly contradictory and feeble excuses which have instead proven his derogatory intentions.



Collard has inflicted distress, self-doubt (the key symptom of gaslighting), insecurity and feelings of isolation amongst the multiple women he has lured into his companionship; yet most alarmingly, his publicised behaviour proves a general lack of awareness for his own abusive actions. Even more appalling, Kendall Knight has publicly defended Collard against accusations of emotional abuse, proving the widespread misunderstanding of the issues at hand. Yet Love Island has started a crucial and especially long overdue conversation which will hopefully empower and remind women from across the nation of their self-value. As opposed to staging false apologies and muffling the echoes of discontent, ITV must make an example of contestants like Adam Collard to influence the women who relate so profoundly to the show’s content.  


Masculinity has often been the long but silent struggle of men in the modern era. With the rise of social media, young males are often pressured into perusing a hyper-masculine façade which is branded as desirable by their partners. It is no wonder that intellectual, mellow and softly spoken A&E Doctor turned Love Island contestant Alex George has faced constant rejection throughout the duration of the show. His popularity on the outside world has made him the target of misuse by contestants desperate for public affection; his shyness causing his dismissal as less attractive and without sexual appeal. Muscular alternatives such as Adam Collard and Charlie Frederick have instead been the preference of Love Island’s women, whilst the bundle of potential that Alex is, has by contrast, struggled to gain female appreciation, thus decimating the young man’s self-esteem.


The reality TV programme has thus promoted the toxic stereotypes men and women both abide to when choosing a partner in the real world. Yet the positive reception Alex has received outside the villa should serve as a lesson to women and men alike, that hyper-masculinity should not define one’s attractiveness or worthiness, especially in the wake of abuse inflicted by physically idolised contestants.


21-year-old model Hayley Hughes, who was recently voted off the show, has epitomised the grave level of political disengagement all too common in the lives of ordinary people. Her questioning as to what Brexit was, and her assumption that the vote would leave the UK “without trees” was the crux of reality television’s reputation. Yet the producer’s decisions to exploit Hayley’s ignorance as entertainment is truly sickening. As opposed to speculating over her fabricated lack of intelligence, the media should instead be paying attention to the lack of understanding ordinary people like her are experiencing in regard to complicated political processes such as Brexit.


Love Island has once again shed light on the responsibility of Britain’s key institutions to ensure better public understanding of political issues, thus ensuring their decisions at the Ballot Box are in future better informed. If reality TV can transform politics into a topic of hot debate, producers should seize the opportunity to educate the populous who otherwise struggle to decipher the difference between left and right wing ideology. 


It is evident that Love Island holds potential far beyond 20-year-olds lounging, bickering and romantically engaging in the sun. The mass following the programme has quickly acquired in my humble, 17-year-old belief accompanies a level of responsibility. Reality TV is perhaps the beacon of hope in an era of racism, domestic abuse, endangering gender stereotypes and political disengagement. Yes, it has started conversations; but does Love Island need to do more? Undoubtedly.


ITV has gauged the attention of the younger generation, away from the manipulative format of social media, it should thus keep the crucial issues it has touched upon in the limelight, and prevent the faults of modern society from spiralling out of our control. The show thus has mass potential, but a long way still to go. 

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