It’s a curious thing, modern Britain. For almost a week, we’ve been openly discussing that great taboo, pay. for even longer though, we’ve been talking about sex. Not even the clammy, soul-cleaving let-down kind most Brits endure, but high-octane, tanned, effervescent and salubrious copulating. Mail mouthpiece Peter Hitchens referred to it in his column as ‘Olympian’, with the caveat that it was also positively ‘Neanderthal’.
The success of the ITV’s Love Island has taken us all aback. It has become the cultural phenomenon of the summer. It’s one of those shows that people love to be snobbish about, yet intrigues all the same; on the day following the show’s finale, the Telegraph published seventeen articles on it. But its success shouldn’t, really, be a surprise; it’s not a new format or a new idea, and it has captured the zeitgeist of the day.
It arrived at a curious juncture in the progress of ‘the Millennial’. Overexposed as they are to mass marketing, pornography and social media, Love Island’s audience were hypersexualised from an early age. Yet despite this, they are enduring a sexual malaise, copping off less often than previous generations. Where most couples grow old and resentful of each other over time, people today have skipped coupling up and shagging, and moved straight to separate bedrooms.
This is for myriad reasons. Millennials are cash and time poor, with limited opportunity for meaningful connections with others. Could you afford to take a gal out to Dishoom (or even Nandos) on the average London wage, rent and student debt? Where would you fit it into your schedule, around work, the gym, meditation, cooking, cleaning, the compulsory protest marches, onanism… and of course, Love Island?
Where feminism promoted the breakdown of the nuclear family and advocated casual sex, now it fixates on ‘rape culture’, which can’t do much to endear the sexes to each other. Internet pornography, meanwhile, has created a swathe of young men given to visual satisfaction, forgoing relationships; in Japan, it is creating a population crisis.
Even for those still inclined to foray out into the real world, the birth of the dating app has created the illusion of endless choice. Behaviour towards potential partners has worsened, with ‘ghosting’ (casting someone to the online gulag) the standard method of ending an acquaintance. Theirs is a generation that grew up with almost half experiencing parental divorce. Is it any wonder that they are facing ‘the dating apocalypse’?
How, then, has Love Island scaled its dizzying heights? Watched by millions, this incarnation of the show received 80,000 applicants – up from 12,000 the previous year, when it first started to make its mark on our consciousness.
It’s simple. Sex, and gossip, sell. Love Island’s audience, prudes that they are, have been brought up on a culture of voyeurism, and they love it. Though many decry how toxic it is, it’s effectively impossible to go ‘offline’. From ‘Facebook Official’ and Instagram to revenge porn and happy slapping, watching things happen to other people entrances us. Love Island has found the formula to transfer this from the web to reality TV format, giving us the titillation, with the added hook of an episodic format, hooking people used to getting what they want straight away. It’s porn that’s playing hard to get.
People live vicariously through the characters on Love Island. They are good looking, they are promiscuous, and overly dramatic. They also come across as thick (though they aren’t) which gives viewers that sense of superiority they need to qualify their viewing, despite the fact that they are the ones, single and alone, on a sofa in Reigate, instead of on a beach in the arms of a man with more muscles than Pembroke Dock.
These are the people Millennials love to hate. They are also what generation Instagram secretly aspires to be. They are ‘famous’, wealthy, and good looking, without expending effort. They are a nod to a Bacchanalian existence many claim to loathe, privately lust after, but never actively seek.
Love Island speaks to very primal desires and fascinations, beamed at you in all its glossy glory. The chance of being promiscuous, wanted, but also the chance of something more. But it’s a love story for the kids of today; it is obvious spray-tanned falsehood. The drama, the sauce, the break-ups. None of it is real. No one finds love, but no one gets hurt either.
These are things people have found themselves, whether by accident or by design, insulated against. Love Island provides an outlet through which a generation, aimlessly swiping right, may experience the danger and the excitement, safe in the knowledge that it is happening to someone else, and even then, from the protection of a controlled, safe space.
It represents hours of wasted life. Hours of wasted life that could have been spent aimlessly swiping on Tinder.