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Love Island 2018: a window into our current society?

Image: ITV Pictures
Image: ITV Pictures
Image: ITV Pictures

Love Island, the hit reality TV series, has hit the headlines in recent days following the death of Sophie Gordon, contestant in the 2016 series. Sophie Gordon documented her battles with mental health on Twitter following her departure from the TV show. Although the reason for her death has not been formally announced, fellow contestants have speculated it was due to ongoing problems with anxiety and depression. As well as this, current contestant, Adam Collard, has been accused of ‘gas lighting’ and emotional abuse by Women’s Aid and has sparked Ofcom complaints. Although the show is undoubtedly popular, it raises many questions that are currently shaping society’s attitudes towards mental health and relationships. And it raises the question of whether we should be endorsing these ideas in the provision of reality TV shows such as these. The problems hidden beneath Love Island’s golden glow are deeply evocative of current society’s failures which calls for a re-evaluation of reality TV. 

Reality TV has been popular for many years – the original series of Love Island first aired in 2005 and has made a highly successful comeback in recent years. However, criticisms have been rising in recent weeks following the latest series of Love Island. Lizzie Cernik, a journalist writing for the Guardian, claimed in a recent article, that Love Island,

“normalises emotional abuse – and we call it entertainment”

which raises the question over whether we should be avidly popularising the programme. Adam has been criticised by Women’s Aid for ‘gaslighting,’ a term designated to a type of emotional abuse where the victim’s perception of reality is altered, acting as a method of control. Over time, it acts to destroy self confidence. In Adam’s relationship with fellow contestant, Rosie Williams, he quickly lost interest and denied accusations of ignoring Rosie and falsely leading her on. Adam was quick to dismiss her emotions as unnecessary in the portrayal of his own self assurance and false maturity.

Although Love Island is evidently not completely reflective of outside relationships, its confined nature and intensity reflects the dangerous potentials of some relationships. As well as this, it portrays women as a prize to be won by male lead pursuits. Consequently, men are cheered for their sexual endeavours, whereas a lot of the women are shunned if they appear to be flippant with their relationships. Even if Love Island does not offer the complete picture of society, it evokes the sense that there is still a long way to go for equalising sexual equality.

Love Island has a lot to answer for in terms of this years allegations of emotional abuse but also for its lack of diversity. Each bikini body is perfectly sculptured alongside a perfected image of the male form. The majority of contestants are mostly white and heterosexual. If Love Island wants to act as a reflection of current society and relationships, it has an awful lot to make up for in terms of representation for it to come close to being reflective of modern day society and relationships. It is too typical and fails to acknowledge the true diversity of relationships, love and society that we are all witnessing today.

Although the estimated 3 million viewers remain utterly committed to Love Island and its exploitation of corrupt relationships, there is still a lot to be answered for. Producers may revel in producing dramatic scenes and emotionally charged arguments for viewer benefit – however, it ignores the people it exploits. Love Island has a duty of care to its contestants, which it is not necessarily fulfilling. Despite what it portrays, love and relationships are not all glamour and smiley selfie holiday pictures by the sunset. They are real and should be shown this way. As Cernik argues,

“Humiliation and emotional abuse might be good for ratings, but taking advantage of human vulnerability for entertainment has [its] consequences.”

Last week, the death of a former contestant, Sophie Gordon (32) from the 2016 series was announced. Prior to her death, Gordon had been proactive in tweeting her emotions and in September told her Twitter followers,

“Hi guys, no not dead just battling a little bit of depression. I’ll come back I promise x.”

alluding to her ongoing struggles with anxiety and depression. As recently as June 15th, Gordon tweeted,

“‘I genuinely feel that when true & honest human souls get taken away from us, they are the ones who have found the meaning of life.”

Both Tweets allude to a certain openness about her struggles with mental health but her death signifies that there is till so much stigma left to tackle. Her sudden fame and rise in the villa combined with treatment via internet trolls, fuelled her anxiety and reveals the role reality TV and celebrity culture plays in fuelling the mental health epidemic. Although the cause of her death has not been confirmed, friends and fellow contestants have hinted at her struggles with mental health and the importance of preventing suicide. Although slightly hinting at her struggles on the social media site, Twitter, her Instagram page hides the true reality of her emotions.

It raises the question over to what extent social media platforms hide the reality of peoples lives, and create a false sense and expectation of happiness for people to hide behind. Gordon was an active user of Instagram and regularly posted bright, happy pictures of herself and made no hint of the struggles she was facing. Both reality TV, and social media are responsible for providing a blanket to hide behind and fuel a greater mental health stigma, especially for celebrities and public figures.

In death, people are usually celebrated far more than in life. Gordon faced a rush of tributes following the news of her death on social media, as well as important messages of challenging the stigma of mental health and criticising Love Island for failing to address the problems it fuels. Tributes also expressed the simple importance of asking someone if they were okay, even if it was out of the blue or an old friend, as these gestures can make all the difference. However, a greater amount needs to be done when people are alive and battling mental health conditions every single day.

Love Island may produce an eerie sense of glamour and frivolousness in its golden, hazy, Spanish retreat. However, this gaze is blinded by the ongoing stigma that is still attached to mental health and does little to address the harmful role of celebrity culture and social media. For all its popularity and attraction, it also fails in its portrayal of women as objects that are primarily pursued by white, heterosexual men. It ignores the diverse world we live in but simultaneously, is watched by many. Rather than blindly watching it for its entertainment values, we should be willing to openly criticise it for its misdemeanours.