Love Island, sharing the fate of many popular mass consumables, epitomizes the definitive break between high and low ‘culture’. Although I have yet to begin my protest to have Love Island screenings in the British Museum, Love Island is not a simpleton’s game by any means. The contestants exist in what the producers have constructed as a microcosm of society. The end goal of the villa is to find ‘love’, as they always say: ‘it’s Love Island not friend island”. The unspoken farce is that Love Island is not for love at all (if it is then their success rates are dismal and eharmony should cancel their panic meeting). Love Island is, as all reality TV shows are, for the novelty of fame (hopefully with love as a bonus).
So why is it then that every new year our contestants, who are assumedly (because they don’t live in a cage) fans of the show try so hard to convince us of their sincerity? ‘Playing the game’ is akin to throwing down the gauntlet in the villa (the litany of shocked faces when Shaughna picked Mike as the biggest game player says it all) but this stubbornness is ridiculous – it is a game, a game so fleshed out it even has additional mini-games to play along the way.
Regardless of the initial coupling up the primary goal in and throughout the show appears to be a petty brawl to be crowned the most authentic contestant there (a paradox they try their utmost to ignore). In schematic (pun intended) terms they all want to prove, as said by Georgia, that: “I’m loyal babe”. To prove their sincerity the villa participants stick steadfastly to a formulaic set of chronological boundaries—each one representing a new level on the path to ‘love’.
Milestones like the ritualistic cuffing ceremonies are extravagantly planned. Tommy’s elaborate scavenger hunt to ‘propose’ to Molly-Mae in 2019, while admittedly adorable, was akin to megaphoning ‘we have a real connection’ across the TV waves. The more ostentatious the gestures get, the more Love Island perpetuates the unachievable, idealistic blueprint of romance that has been central to romance novels, and our daydreams for years. We are quick to call out Love Island for being trashy, but that is what we demand from our Romance genre (even if Love Island is technically a reality TV show).
We seem to punish those who refuse to participate in the non-game-game of romance, those who ruin what we ‘know’ (from our romantic stereotypes) to be love. 2019’s winner, Amber Gill, proves suspicious of Sophie, tweeting: “Sophie being tactical…watch her”, in response to Sophie’s quick shutting down of Connor’s joking (absolutely not joking) ‘will you be my girlfriend talk’. But realistically, why would she not be tactical? It is a game, and more than that – she just didn’t want to. When they say ‘no’ it breaks the not only the illusion (Leanne’s ‘ick’ has certainly made her unpopular with the public), but also our own romantic dreams – dreams that ultimately deserve constant challenging.
Categories: Film & TV