This week, millions tuned in to watch twelve people talk over each other and mostly talk nonsense. No, I’m not talking about the democratic debates. [Laughter break.]
Love Island looks like a set built by Bratz dolls and Ed Hardy tee shirts, but we’re told its actually a resort in Majorca. The outside world is apparently destroyed by global catastrophe, and the only chance of survival is for these conventionally attractive, fame hungry bright young things is to find themselves coupled up. But there’s nothing to do, except when the campy narrator sends them text messages through a closed network instructing them that they are about to play a sexy game or are chosen to go to the copulation chamber with their chosen partner.
Otherwise, there is nothing to do but talk. And talk. And talk. About nothing. Nothing on the outside exists, there is no culture, no reference to political events, but to talk. And if they don’t talk, they cease to exist. They fill the time with acceptable catchphrases (“at the end of the day…”. “here to commit;” “he’s my ride or die…” )The gravity in the resort must work like it does in that ocean planet in Interstellar. One day on Love Island is a lifetime of heteronormative time. Within a new day, new survivors of the outside apocalypse are found and brought in. In twelve hours the recoupling starts, a sort of Hunger Games reaping of survival. Each person must stand up and give an oration about why they are picking the “boy” or “girl” they are based on connections, values, and feelings, and where they see it going. All from a day. The temporality of courtship, understanding, love, and partnering must happen within the temporal walls of the day or else…apparently everyone is destroyed. Couples must convene in the same bed for sleeping, all in one room, like a performance art of domestic life. This is Battle Royale of love.
There are rules, you see. Not just the rules of the game. Weston, the red headed southern cowboy type, chose to get to know new “girls” as they came into the island. He recoupled with different people at different times. This was NOT acceptable, as knowing someone for a whole day is a commitment. He was accused of “tricking” girls into being interested in him. You see, heteronoramativity relies on tricks and strategies. Speaking of strategies, Caro almost breaks a hip in her performative bubbliness and baby talk. To appear vulnerable or feeling unfun is punishable by death. Kelsey, learning that she would not be chosen despite her best efforts to be “open to love,” sacrifices herself to leave, is finally allowed to show emotion. She cries as she leaves, apologizing over and over for her failures. She took back control by taking her own life rather than the worse option- the realization that it was the audience’s judgement that ultimately destroyed her. Who are these outside entities? Are they bots?Are they voices from beyond the grave of the apocolypse, echoing into the chamber of Love Island, doomed to repeat the conventions of the past?
Kyra, who must be the center of conversation and attention at all times, finds an attraction to Emily, a new survivor brought in mid-season. Emily is into her to. But there is no opportunity for this; any sort of queerness is not in the rules. Recoupling must eventually result in a promise to one day repopulate the world. The inhabitants are even given astronomic babies as a game, as a practice for a strict heteronormative future. Emily and Kyra lament how it was too bad that they never got to explore their attraction before a recoupling to see what was. They are saying this to each other in the same room. There is no stopping them now. Except for the constant fear of having to leave the sanctuary of Love Island, a synthetic utopia. It’s too bad they have no free will to explore that now, they are completely obedient to the RULES.
This format is not new; most reality shows focus on surveillance (Big Brother). romance rituals (The Bachelor) and performance of self (The Real World) and competition. But in Love Island, the promise of life depends on it. The remaining couple not only wins $100,00 (split two ways), but they win at the using the correct passage and order of time.
The biggest trick of temporality is that the show is broadcast nightly, six days a week, tricking the audience into feeling it is in real time, and there is a sense of control in that. I’m the one who has ultimately been fooled. I have watched it every night.