Last summer, I had serious FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out, for the slang-uneducated). And it wasn’t because of the sorry absence of a foreign holiday. Social life-wise, I had a great summer. No, the FOMO stemmed from the screens in my life – every meme, every tweet, every recap of the previous night’s TV was about one thing. Love Island. I didn’t watch it and I felt like a total outcast from pop culture for the entire month.
What is it about this seemingly run-of-the-mill reality show that has Western Europe gripped by the eyeballs? On paper, it sounds the same as every other Tom, Dick and TOWIE TV show – perma-tanned 20 something’s having sex with each other. Since the dawn of Jersey Shore, and, even earlier than that, Big Brother, this format is nothing new – in fact, it seems almost tired by today’s TV standards. So why is everyone so obsessed?
I’m no stranger to tacky reality TV – I adore it. And when I look at why I willingly spend so much of my free time gazing at The Hills, Made in Chelsea and Jersey Shore re-runs, the reason that Love Island has everyone so immersed clicks. It’s a way to unwind. It’s, as my mother would call it, chewing gum for the brain. And that’s not an insult, by any means. Chewing gum for the brain is often just what the doctor ordered.
Look back to 2017, when Love Island began to explode in popularity. If we look at the wider Zeitgeist of the time, things weren’t too bright. Trump was 6 months into his presidency. There had been multiple terrorist attacks in Britain, with devastating consequences. #MeToo hadn’t even begun, though it was no doubt gathering steam behind the scenes. The world, for want of a better description, was a bit shit. So when this new, sun-glowed TV show, with impossibly beautiful, dense, but well-meaning contestants came onto our screens, it was like breathing a sigh of relief. I don’t have to sit in depressed silence after the nine o’clock news anymore – I can switch onto ITV2 and watch this crowd instead.
It’s the same reason that cringe-factor TV (X-Factor and the like) has declined in popularity in recent years. We don’t want to see Simon Cowell being horrible to hopeful pop stars, or kitchen chefs being made to cry after being shouted at. It’s the same reason that Queer Eye is the TV behemoth of 2018, about to start a new season, its second in just five months. The news is not pretty – so we need to get our prettiness elsewhere. Granted, Love Island isn’t the most innocent of concepts – picking and choosing who you want to have sex with, while leaving the other contestants silently seething isn’t really on the same level as Johnathan Van Ness telling you look fierce with your newly shaped beard (yes, I am a massive Queer Eye fan, if you hadn’t noticed). But the point still stands; Love Island is relaxed, largely inoffensive viewing; something a lot of us have been subconsciously craving.
Love Island is one of those shows that came along at the right time and is still riding the wave of its beloved debut. Will it continue its huge popularity throughout summer ’18? Only time will tell. But what I do know now, is that I better catch up on last night’s episode if I ever want to join in the group chat conversation this month.