Last year the television critic of this magazine turned his gaze towards Love Island. A year on, Love Island is one of the most popular shows on television. I am assured by friends that “everyone is watching it” and that young people talk of little else. Anecdotal evidence tells me that one could be forgiven for thinking that this is true. Meanwhile, the Daily Mail has commissioned some slightly crusty academics and writers to watch Love Island and tell us what they think of it, which you can read here. Unsurprisingly, most of them seemed not to like it.
I decided to see Love Island for myself, so that comment from me on this cultural phenomenon might not seem presumptuous. But, and it is a serious but, you do not have to watch Love Island for long to know what it is about, just as you do not have to have read Conan Doyle in depth to know about Sherlock Holmes, or PG Wodehouse to know who Jeeves is. For just as those characters were emblematic of their age, so is Love Island of ours.
Like the formidable Dr Germaine Greer on the subject of Beyoncé, I want to know why the contestants in this game show are almost always scantily clad. That is my first reaction.
I think I know the answer, but the question is serious. I mean, if I were invited on television and told that I could only wear skimpy clothing, I would smell a rat. Yes, it would be absurd for someone of my age to be asked to dress like that, but surely what would be absurd for me is surely absurd for all? Professional swimmers in the Olympic games wear Speedos, we all know, but that is fine in that context. The Love Islanders’ costumes reveal not just their muscular torsos (in the case of the men) and almost the entirety of their buttocks (in the case of the women) but something about their role: they are there to titivate. (The same goes for the tans, the hair styles and the make-up.) Love Island is a form of soft porn. As such it degrades the contestants, it degrades the viewers, and it degrades our culture. The episode I watched culminated with various couples making love in dim lighting. In one case, it seemed that an act of sexual intercourse was in progress. This was not shocking, only depressing. As for the Islanders themselves, they are not stupid, they are banal, which is worse.
Love Island, it seems to me, is a symptom of the pornification of our culture, a topic ably covered by authors such as Matt Fradd, whose book, the Porn Myth, I have recommended before. Pornography, it seems to me, does not just remain online, but seeps into mainstream television, into the newspapers, and into daily life and human interaction at all levels. Pornography commodifies sex, and Love Island is the retail end of such commodification. Because sexuality is such an integral part of being human, porn degrades us all. People who ‘use’ porn (or rather are used by it) start to act and dress like commodified human beings. Porn is dangerous because it has the potential to change the human character, if we are not careful. The Love Islanders are examples of this: they are members of Generation Porn, the generation that sees porn as the new normal.
Meanwhile, I continue to be amazed by the way people react to the proliferation of porn online. Sometimes they simply do not want to talk about it: but ignoring things is not the best way to deal with danger. Or else they deny it is a danger at all, and claim, which no serious expert would ever do, that porn is harmless, or that the dangers are exaggerated, or that porn is somehow justified as a legitimate form of human self-expression. They often raise the bogeyman of censorship.
Do we want censorship? No form of censorship is ideal. What we want is a society in which people would recoil from taking part in a game show like Love Island and recoil from watching it. That doesn’t necessarily mean becoming like Iran or Saudi Arabia. But it does mean raising ourselves a little from our current low obsessions. Jesus described his own contemporaries as “a wicked and adulterous generation.” (Matthew 12:39). The same words certainly apply to us.