Writing

Love Island? Milgram experiment Sponsored by Superdrug

Bloody hell, Love Island! What a show, what a thrill, what a seething crucible of sex and power all jammed into a hot, fake-tanned, half hour on ITV2. 

Forgive the zeal of the newly converted but I love this show. My wife and I cling to each other on the sofa while watching, like we’re adrift on a life raft called ‘marriage’ as we watch the ‘Islanders’ cope with the amplification of powerful evolutionary forces under the scrutiny of a few dozen cameras and a few million salivating voyeurs.

The show is, I suppose, Big Brother (which I used to work on, by the way kids, ‘Ballbag. Dinkle. Don’t be too quick to judge Jade’s “racism.”’ Remember that? No?’) with the most exciting components; sexual tension and fragile political alliances, dialled up through truly excellent production.

Beneath the pop aesthetic and ITV2 veneer (and veneers play their part on screen too, there are gnashers in that villa that create light that only mosquitos can experience) what we have is a prime-time Milgram experiment where sexually-awakening (at time of writing) heterosexuals are subjected to concentrated competition for status and mates.

Some commentators bemoan the artificiality, but I believe that a situation where young people are forced to vie for sexual partners and status under the eye of an invisible guiding force is perhaps more anthropologically authentic than the courtship and lives that most of us experience. They are basically in a modernised tribal environment where natural, evolved forces are harnessed or exposed. Take the device in episode one; five males and five females are lined up, nearly nude, introduced and instructed to select a partner. This done, a sixth male, Adam, and by God does he deserve the moniker of the First Man because what this guy has given up in ribs he makes up for in pecs. He looks like he’s leapt off a plinth in the Vatican because he was sick of being touched by cardinals and needed to freshen the pallet with an Essex girl sorbet. Anyway, the Islanders are told that in 24 hours Adam will be able to select any of the women to be his partner and no one, female or male, can do anything about it. Adam bears this omnipotence without query or doubt, conducting interviews with his prospective partners like a gorgeous detective looking for an orgasm instead of a suspect. And do you know what? No one queries it. No one says ‘Hang on, you can’t just pluck me from the domain of my personal authority and plant me in your radiant sphere of sexual potency’ because THIS IS LOVE ISLAND AND HE FUCKING WELL CAN. 

More extraordinary still is that this contrived power granted by the ingenious producers, functions as ‘actual’ power. The men are intimidated, and the women are attracted. Even women who initially balk at the idea of this beautifully groomed hormone snatching them from their temporarily betrothed, on being ‘interviewed’ by Adam (and this could of course be editorialised) they flutter and flirt with atavistic delight. Case in point being Kendall, who Adam vacuumed like Zeus from her delightful coupling with the adorable Niall, possibly because they seemed so happy and suited, when exposed to the attention of the nominated but fucking well cast Alpha Male, was powerless to resist. Or unconsciously went with a strategy that made more evolutionary sense. It’s amazing, intriguing and exciting. It certainly isn’t politically correct; if early episodes are anything to go by gender roles are reverting to a template set in Babylon. It should be called ‘Jordan Peterson Island’.

In episode 2, two new women, Georgie, confident, funny embryonic TV presenter-in-waiting and Rosie, Celtic mystery and boldness, were introduced and all the Islanders regardless of gender, sex or gender role, went into a frenzy of self-care. The original women were banished to a turret (honestly) while the men, in their poolside Sunday Best greeted the new arrivals like the beautiful bonobos it seems, deep down, we all are. They charmingly displayed and gently vied. Meanwhile the Rapunzels looked down aghast and threatened, aware of their jealousy, and explicit, but still unaware as to how these powerful forces were being so artfully brought to bear.

At their age, dammit at my age, I would not have coped well with the insecurity and excitement that this mainstream pop experiment induces. One wonders, well it was my mate Matt who wondered actually, if the coming decades will see ‘Love Island’ litigations, where former contestants sue for psychological trauma. For now, though this show is gripping and the fact is that we all live in contrived and constructed environments that are a long way from the pre-agricultural world for which we evolved. Perhaps the ‘reality’ in this piece of Reality TV reveals truths about sex and power that could be useful to us in creating fairer systems for all genders and sexes. Or perhaps it’s just a right laugh, sponsored by Superdrug. Either way I’ve never been more grateful for the ring on my finger, holding the hand of my partner, purposefully adrift on a life raft sofa, evacuees from continents of ‘love’ and power.