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Why Is Everyone Watching Love Island And What Do We Really Want From Reality TV?

16/07/2017 16:12
ITV 2

Unless you have been under a stone for the last month, the roaring success of the TV series Love Island will not have escaped you. Thoroughly trouncing Big Brother in the TV ratings, after they were both launched on the same day, Love Island has served up an unbeatable blend of glamour, sunshine and romance that viewers have found hard to resist.

Whether it's the ensuing drama between Jess and Dom (did she really sleep with Muggy Mike when she left the island?), the mercurial relationship of Chris and Olivia or the on-off affair of Kem and Amber, it has been hard to escape. The islanders also seem to have invented a new language, with expressions like 'muggy', 'melt' and 'grafting'. Fashion brands New Look and Primark have even launched t-shirts emblazoned with phrases uttered on air, further underlining the fact that this show is having a huge cultural impact.

The programme's premise is simple - a group of physically attractive young people compete to win a cash price of £50,000, to be shared between the couple who stay together and are most popular with the viewing public, and there is not a beer belly or any dimpled cellulite in sight.

The tabloids, which previously always reported exhaustively on the latest from the Big Brother House, have now shifted their focus to the romantic shenanigans and entanglements of Love Island and its competitors.

Suddenly, as they try to find love in this TV landscape, a whole host of new reality TV stars are being launched, and the presenting career of Caroline Flack, so unceremoniously dumped from X Factor only a couple of years ago, now has renewed currency in broadcasting circles. However, one could argue that the breakout star of Love Island is in actual fact Iain Stirling, the voice-over (and stand-up comedian) who provides the hilarious narrative, with wicked asides and cheeky insights into the thoughts of some of the cameramen filming proceedings.

It is without doubt the broadcasting phenomenon of the summer, but its success also begs the question about what we viewers actually want to watch for entertainment now, following an unsettling few months for the UK.

In less certain times perhaps it is just human nature to opt for more escapist content and that's definitely what Love Island serves up. When news headlines are so unsettling, the brutal encounters between some of the socially challenged housemates of the Big Brother household can seem less appealing, meaning that the feather light romantic plots of Love Island, that is filmed in warm optimistic sunshine, have a renewed resonance.

It is also interesting that the sexual content of Love Island has been toned down, and whilst a number the islanders have indeed got together between the sheets, the producers have been quoted in the media as saying that they are placing much more focus on the development of the romantic relationships as opposed to prolonged gratuitous filming of these encounters. Big Brother has traditionally relished in showing as much sordid behaviour (both sexual and aggressive) as possible.

It will be interesting to see whether the success of Love Island heralds a new era in reality TV, with more structure and less focus on any actual reality and more on escapism and fantasy. Perhaps taking viewers back to a time or a place in their lives when all they had to worry about was who they fancied, what to wear by the pool or how long they were going to sunbathe, will prove increasingly popular.

Whereas scripted reality TV programmes such as The Only Way Is Essex or Made In Chelsea allow viewers a glimpse into a specific cultural group it seems to me that Love Island is more inclusive, as it allows viewers to feel as though they are there on holiday with the islanders, experiencing all the fun, gossip and romance along the way, as well as the stunning sunsets and close-ups of local wildlife courtesy of the team of cameramen.

And if I were a betting woman I would say that the producers are probably already considering a reboot of the original, rather limp, celebrity version of Love Island. I am sure there will be no shortage of established personalities desperate for the kind of exposure that this TV phenomenon has given its current cast of unknowns.

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