Love Island is like Shakespeare with a suntan
From the language to the romance, Love Island's slice of reality television could actually make us more civilised, argues Elizabeth Day
The world is divided into two types of people: those who adore ITV2’s Love Island, and those who abhor it and believe that watching it hastens the decline of civilisation. I fall into the former category because the latter group is, well, wrong.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that watching Love Island can actually make you more civilised. It is reality television at its most naive: think back to the first series of Big Brother and you have something of the flavour of it. Admittedly, the show’s premise might sound tacky on paper: a group of random, swimwear-clad strangers are plonked in a telegenic holiday villa and are encouraged to “couple up”, which involves sharing a bed and possibly allowing romance to develop. The public then vote to keep their favourite pairing in the villa. The last couple standing scoops a £50,000 cash prize.
But the amazing thing about Love Island is that most of the contestants seem to forget about both the cash and the cameras almost as soon as they walk in the villa. They start talking, utterly sincerely, about wanting to find “the one” and “someone who gives me butterflies” and you realise that, ultimately, we are all engaged on this endless quest to be understood.
It’s the kind of narrative that has obsessed us since time immemorial. It’s why we’re still riveted by the work of Jane Austen or Shakespeare: because we are all searching for someone who helps us make sense of ourselves.
Of course there’s lots of fake tan and white teeth and preposterous, silicone-enhanced body types, and the occasional night-time shuffle under the sheets. But at its heart, Love Island is a show about people forming relationships – romantic ones, yes, but also platonic ones. In fact, one of the most appealing things about Love Island is that the contestants are, by and large, nice to each other.
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One of the most enduring partnerships this series has been between two men: Kem, a hairdresser from Essex who appears to be approximately 4ft 2in, and Chris, a “golf clothing ambassador” (no, me neither) from Gloucestershire who cracks jokes like, “What’s the most common owl in Britain? A teat-owl.” The two of them are engaged in a deeply felt bromance. As a woman, it’s fascinating getting an insight into how men talk to each other when they think no one’s watching (mainly they talk about clothes and feeling insecure, and occasionally break into a spontaneous, good-humoured rap song).
And then there’s the language. Shakespeare is said to have invented more than 1,700 of our common words by changing nouns into verbs, changing verbs into adjectives, connecting words never before used together, adding prefixes and suffixes, or simply making them up from scratch. The Love Islanders continue this noble tradition in some style. I’ve been introduced to a whole new lexicon, including “melt” (someone being soppy; an idiot), “muggy” (making a fool of someone) and “pied off ”, which means to be rejected, often in favour of someone else. When romance blossoms, islanders say they are “catching feelings”, as if falling in love were a disease.
Before the sun sets on Love Island this Friday, I urge you to give it a go. It’s rather like The Archers in that you’ll need to persevere with those characters who remain, but I promise it’s worth it. Shakespeare, ever the populist, would love it.
Love Island is on Sunday to Friday at 9pm on ITV2