Pat Stacey: Something nasty is lurking on Love Island
There's a sinister class-cased undercurrent in the reality show
The newspapers are full of it. Twitter is overflowing with it. Radio shows won’t stop talking about it.
Sociologists, psychologists and probably all sorts of other-ologists are scratching their heads until the scalp bleeds as they try to solve the mysteries of its appeal.
We’re referring, of course, to the latest series of Love Island, which has become the most talked-about television topic since... well, the previous series of Love Island.
This time though, the phenomenon has reached dizzying new levels. Four million people in the UK watched the opening episode on ITV2, giving the channel the biggest audience it’s ever had.
As many dismayed commentators pointed out, that’s two million more than watched a superb documentary about the suffragettes — those brave women who risked their liberty and their lives so Georgia and Dani and Hayley from Love Island would have the right to vote — shown on BBC1 at the same time.
The love for Love Island has also spread like a particularly virulent STD to Ireland. More than 100,000 people are watching it every night on TV3’s offshoot 3e, with another 40,000 watching later on the online player. Small potatoes compared to the ITV2 figures, certainly, but still astonishing for a channel most of us forget even exists much of the time.
Just for today, you can make that 140,000 plus one — me. It’s a temporary situation. My brief membership of the not-so-elite club of Love Island viewers expired at the end of Sunday night’s episode, the only one I’ve watched and will ever watch.
I was curious to find out what all the fuss was about. As it turns out, it’s about what nearly every reality series has been about since Jade Goody announced in series three of Big Brother that she thought “East Angular” (East Anglia) was a different country, and that Rio de Janeiro was a person.
It’s about laughing at ‘stupid people’ saying ‘stupid things’. The difference is that on Love Island the icons of idiocy wear fewer clothes, show more flesh and display industrial levels of preening narcissism. And that’s just the men.
Oh, and let’s not forget the sex — or at least the promise of sex. Love Island may be peddled as a romantic reality show aimed at finding the perfectly-paired couple, but its purpose couldn’t be any more explicit if they renamed it Morons Try To Mate.
“Blue balls released!” body builder Adam — a giant, man-shaped penis with a beard — gleefully told fellow islander Jack — a permanently leering man-child with teeth that appear to have been sprayed with the paint they use to lay white lines on motorways — after spending the night with Rosie.
We’ll have to take Adam’s word for how far things went. Like good, god-fearing, contraceptive-denied Catholic husbands in the Ireland of yesteryear, the Love Island cameras always withdraw at the appropriate moment.
But all the bimbos, himbos, rippling pecs, jiggling boobs and wiggling bums in the world don’t explain the extraordinary viewing figures. The usual pattern for reality shows is that their audience tends to slip after a couple of series.
Yet Love Island is currently on its fourth series and its UK audience is double that of the previous one, and still rising.
It’s being sold as a harmless, if faintly sleazy, bit of sun-kissed fluff for the summer season. Yet there’s something vaguely sinister going on here.
The big talking point in the British media is how “educated” people (for that, read the middle and upper-middle classes) are watching the show.
You have to wonder if the inclusion of a solicitor, A+E doctor and government advisor are some kind of fig leaf for this audience.
The Daily Telegraph recently ran an article headlined “Six reasons why clever people like Love Island”, which informed us that “graduates, bibliophiles and Radio 4 listeners” are avid fans.
It’s all too reminiscent of the ‘human zoos’ of the 19th and early 20th centuries, when the rich would go to gawp at supposedly inferior species in their natural habitat.
Still feeling the love?
Love Island, 3e/ITV2, 9pm