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The Act of Modern Viewing: Love Island

Updated: Jul 25, 2019

We live in the age of the popular and the populist. What the hell does it all mean?

Is Love Island Art? Is Reality a Dream? Will robots overthrow us and become our never ending slave masters? Some questions may forever be left to the mysterious ethers of time.

Averaging 2.8 million viewers, ITV’s cultural tour de force has swung in to the jungle of our collective consciousness like a waxed baboon. The appeal for many -behind the bleached teeth, chromatic tan lines and Victoria’s Secret bikinis – lies in the show’s naked humanity.

Planet of the Apes

Love Island explores love – that prickly vein-bound substance – in an uncompromising, sadistic fashion. Islanders must couple up, successfully navigating lie-detector tests and spontaneous couple-splitting, or face eviction from the show. The more sincere; heart-struck; complete their love appears, the better the chance to remain.

That this is all filmed on a zillion peering cameras, or the prize for winning is fifty thousand pounds, or prolonging your stay on the Island can guarantee an Instagram following worth potentially far more, are trivialities of little consequence. In fact, it only adds to the theatricality. Did he write that poem from the heart or for his wallet? Did she say I love you to his eyes or for the camera?

Swipe and Like

The show’s seduction transcends the televised, however. Social media allows us to scan the online archives of each Islander, plunging to greater depths of love, hatred or sympathy with each character than a one hour show can typically afford.

Perversely, Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook etc. endow these narcissistic castaways with relatable authenticity.

What Love Island encourages is the act of modern viewing: to passively consume from our Japanese flat-screens, while actively engaging with the show from our palms. Harmonious, horrifying synchronicity.

The Popular and the Populist

The show’s success has only added to the baffling and undecipherable times in which we live. A generation has become enamoured to a show about hyper-real sex chimps fumbling beautifully around an island; yet this is the generation who, mere months ago, had supposedly sworn allegiance to a 68-year old allotment dwelling socialist.

So are we all now Corbynistas, or are we all Islanders? Can you be both? Perhaps the only way to find out would be to place the Labour leader on the next series of the show and see how his renationalisation programmes and anti-austerity message go down poolside.

Latent fantasies aside, however; the ascension of Corbyn does mirror Love Island in each’s wrestling with the authentic. Amidst the bullshit circus of parliamentary politics, the Labour leader – like his transatlantic counterpart Bernie Sanders – appears as a man of unquestionable principle.

A New Cult-ure

Social media has, once more, been foundational in this (Will Davies’ piece here is worth a read). It has allowed populist politicians a chance to bypass the mainstream’s caricatures, forging new identities from the limitless archives of the World Wide Web.

If our age is to be defined, it is one of a click-addled populace baiting themselves in to a technological trap. Where this trap leads – and what its effect on us may be – remains to be seen. Our present moment, however, is defined by it: from the political tempest which has given us a tweeting tantrum of a President, to the idealised island-dwellers who we choose to spend our evenings, virtually speaking, with.

Perhaps now would be a good time to close your laptops.

Pictures courtesy of:


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