Love Island has returned to screens with record-breaking viewership figures. Three million viewers tuned into episode 1 suggesting that packing a Spanish villa with young lads with 400 abs, and bikini-clad glamour models is what the general viewing public really want... Or so it seemed.
Originally aired on ITV in 2005 and 2006, the concept was revived in 2015 by ITV2. The concept is simple enough – impossibly-attractive single 20-somethings are airlifted to a designer villa on the Spanish coast and encouraged to pair off and couple, in hope of winning £50,000 – and, presumably, finding the love of their lives.
Contestants are voted on and off the show each week by both fellow contestants and the viewing public. So, despite the seemingly gratuitous focus on physical beauty – Love Island tries to make some claim to higher ideals of love and emotional connection, because when everyone looks like a model, knowing your way around a joke or being a genuinely nice person, can really help you along with the voting public.
THE GREAT DEBATES: EMOTIONAL ABUSE, MASCULINITY & RACE
Since 2015, Love Island has dominated gossip columns across the UK and Ireland, as people scramble to learn everything about the contestants. However, this year, the tone of media attention payed to the program has shifted slightly based on significant cultural issues of the day. Whilst it continues to dominate glossy mags, newspapers such as The Guardian, The Independent, and The Times have donated more column inches to decoding and discussing more serious cultural implications raised by the program – beyond the obvious issue of singularly endorsing heteronormative monogamist relationships.
Adam Collard, a 22-year-old Personal Trainer from Newcastle was accused of emotionally abusing a fellow contestant, Rosie Williams. Viewers quickly became aware of Collard's attempts to gaslight Williams. Gaslighting is a vicious form of manipulation, where the victim is convinced that their version of reality is unreliable. The incident inspired several women's charities to speak out and incited many articles discussing the issue of emotional abuse and means of combatting it.
"He treated a few of the girls very badly in the Villa which made me hate him. Especially Rosie, he belittled her opinion and basically didn't respect her. In the end, he came out of his shell more and dropped the 'fuck boy' exterior." - Sarah, 26, The Love Network
The question of male beauty and masculinity was naturally raised again, as impossibly ripped men are paraded across the tv screen, unnecessarily inspiring feelings of inadequacy in many young men. While modern notions of masculinity are becoming more prominent in cultural debates, gym culture and steroid use are becoming more prevalent at younger and younger ages. In the UK "the number of 16 to 24-year-old men using anabolic steroids rose from 0.1 to 0.4 per cent between 2015-16 and 2016-17." To put that in context, the percentage increase represents an extra 19,000 young men.
Race and dating has become another pressing issue on the show. Samira Mighty is the first black female contestant to be cast on the show, and, mirroring the everyday experience of black women on dating sites, was the last to be coupled. This, for many young viewers, demonstrated the unconscious racial biases at play. Samira's experience has sparked a wider important conversation on the topic of race and dating, equally demonstrating the place Love Island has played this year in fostering debate and inspection.
Even if the content you created is 'chewing gum' for the mind, there is always the potential that young people, acutely in tune with cultural and political issues of the day, will engage on a deeper level, debating the societal implications of what they're consuming.
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