Love Island is fake. It’s contrived. Over-edited. Oversexed. The end result of a degenerating culture. The final sign of the end times. At least, that’s what the Daily Telegraph and the rest of more snobbish sections of the press would have you believe.
Russel T Davies, writer of Queer as Folk, Doctor Who and A Very English Scandal, once bemoaned the tide of people complaining about reality TV. He claimed that their snobbishness meant they failed to engage with a genre he found “enlightening and fascinating and maddening and beautiful”. He thought that the belief that reality TV was automatically inferior was leading people to deny themselves the chance to engage in an art form, that was producing some of the most radical drama of the century. Forget Breaking Bad, if you really want to understand tragedy of the human condition, whack on Love Island.
Reality TV, no matter how contrived, has a rawness that scripted drama cannot reach
Reality TV, no matter how contrived, has a rawness that scripted drama cannot reach. One of the best depictions of racism I’ve ever seen on TV was on Celebrity Big Brother 5, when Jade Goody, Danielle Lloyd, and Jo O’Meara ganged up on Shilpa Shetty. Season four of Love Island also demonstrated raw human interactions, when Adam gaslighted Rosie. These are situations where the messiness of reality would lead a scripted drama utterly off course, but a reality TV show can thrive. No matter what you think of Love Island, the show is an expert drama: it wouldn’t have 5 million live viewers if it wasn’t doing something right.
The knowledge that these are real people experiencing real emotions means that no matter how inconsequential their problems seem we can feel the weight of them. Reality TV is an exercise in empathy. And Love Island is the best example of that: when people first saw Amber, they were turned off by her cool, distant demeanour, but over time, as she fell into a relationship, then was dumped by Michael for Joanna, endured , then found a new “love” in Greg. As her story progress, the public fell in love with Amber, and catapulted her to victory.
The knowledge that these are real people experiencing real emotions means that no matter how inconsequential their problems seem we can feel the weight of them
While I’m happy to defend reality TV, let’s not pretend it represents some great crisis in scripted drama. There is a world of television beyond the ITV2 schedules, and it is filled with brilliant scripted content: Dracula, Doctor Who, Deadwater Fell. But even if we were on the verge of a great reality TV takeover, it would hardly be the great calamity the doomsayers predict. The true strength of the reality genre is its adaptability; all you need to do is point a camera at a person and you’re making reality TV. Any kind of television broad enough to fit Mastermind and Love Island is one perfectly capable of generating entertaining, revealing art – art that is worth engaging with.
I can already tell that, with the use of the word art, some people will automatically reject my argument. Reality TV, with its lowest common denominator approach, is not art to the popular mind. But we have to ask; what is art? Martin Scorsese says art should reveal something about humanity, about the human condition. What could be more revealing than reality? Some will argue that reality TV is not true reality – it is edited, the scenarios controlled, bad takes reshot- but this misses the point; all art we accept was at one stage created and cultivated by an artist.If a film about fictional gangsters can tell me something about myself, why can’t watching a group of people trying to fall in love do the same?
If you want to understand a culture, look at what captivates it. I just hope this new season of Love Island gives us another opportunity to revaluate that stance.
Unless Mike gets kicked out. Then the show sucks.