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‘Love Island’ is a 21st century British invasion, and for some reason, we need it

What kind of hole have we created in modern society where we’re filling it with logical promiscuity and revelry about someone else’s unpredictability?

I’m not certain. But I know that “Love Island” is filling it.

This past summer, when I started seeing advertisement after advertisement for a new show coming to CBS called “Love Island,” I was intrigued. So, like any good reality television addict, I did some extensive research. 

I learned that the British edition of “Love Island,” the franchise’s flagship, was so popular that it played a large role in the cancellation of the U.K.’s “Big Brother” series — the very cancellation that drove a dagger through my reality television-loving heart a year ago.

With an emotional stake in the game and more cultural curiosity than my three cats combined, I dove headfirst into the summer 2018 season of “Love Island U.K.” as “Love Island U.S.” was taking off. The American edition recently saw a renewal for a second season and has been greenlit to air over in the U.K., so it’s safe to say it was a hit on our shores as well.

The show revolves around contestants trying to romantically link up with each other, forming couples. The threat of being “dumped” from the island looms if the “islanders” remain single at a “recoupling” ceremony – that is, unless the audience votes them out first.

If it sounds confusing, that’s because it is. 

The crux of the show is motivating manufactured promiscuity and encouraging contestants to romantically engage with new arrivals that enter the competition. At the end of every season, the audience votes for its favorite couple, with a cash prize going to the winners.

From a distance, “Love Island” is mindless entertainment. But the fact that it’s gained so much popularity demonstrates a society that seeks unpredictability, is comfortable with chaos and craves catharsis through witnessing the plights of others.

Maybe it’s the political turmoil Americans have been engrossed in this decade — maybe we’re looking for an out, looking for other problems to worry about, looking for something to hope for. I wouldn’t be surprised if the British version has seen similar success after the seemingly endless Brexit debacle.

Perhaps, in the #MeToo era in which toxic relationships are being called into question on a national scale, we’re looking for a national stage in which toxic relationships can be punished in the court of public opinion. We’re looking to make examples out of bad people and see them fall — something far more Draconian than modern society will allow for than in, say, politics.

The longevity of “Love Island” in America is a product of an uncertain society — and considering climate change will kill us all before it’s too late, I’m sure there’s a mutual anxiety that could be found in any country where “Love Island” airs.

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gormanwm@miamioh.edu 

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