Love it, hate it, pretend to hate it during the day and then secretly watch it at night. Reality TV seems to have a hold over the nation of TV watchers, with an invisible force of attraction that drags us back time and time again to see what it has in store this time.
Defined as having low production value, high emotions, cheap antics and questionable ethics, reality TV content still manages to rake in a sizable amount of screentime from viewers. The main reason for it being so popular is how easily consumable this type of content is, because at the end of the day reality tv is simply an experiment of human behaviour. Plus, as a society we have a natural inclination to watch power exercised on regular people. Granted the contestants/people on these shows are in an artificial environment and portraying an emphasised truth of their lives. However, the premise of these shows transparently manipulate vulnerable people, which feeds on our basic lust for control. This is why we watch so much of it!
For the focus of this article I will be taking the example of Love Island, in order to really get to the depth of what goes on under the Sun. I’m not going to waste words describing the plot of Love Island, because whether you have personally seen an episode or not, I am pretty certain you’ll know the gist of what goes on…conventionally attractive, heteronormative people left in a luxurious villa to find love…
This show really does have the 3 S’s: Sun, Sex and SURVEILLANCE. Apologies for ruining the romance, but overall the point of this show is that it is a game, and the producers of this show have learnt to play this game well. What distances love island from other reality TV shows is that the source of power exercised over the consonants is invisible as the host is distant, the narrator is omniscient, the games are trivial and the real game is a taboo to even mention. They have perfected the art of self surveillance.
Comparing the Love Island to the work of theorist Foucault, the show is a prime example of a Panopticon prison. I’m sure when Foucault first introduced this theory, they would not have thought it would be applied in the context of a Spanish villa, however Love Island is an archetype for a society dominated by surveillance. The concept of the Panopticon prison is powered by self discipline. In these models the ‘guard tower’ was in the centre, high up and always watching over the ‘inmates’. However, the ‘inmate’ does not know if the ‘guard’ is watching over them, as they cannot see them. Resulting from the unknown and invisible power, the ‘inmate’ must therefore always regulate their behaviour as though there is always someone watching them. Instead of a ‘guard tower’ though the way Love Island does this is by using 73+ cameras and a decentralisation of power. The contestants have no way of knowing which of their actions will be shown on screen and which won’t, therefore cannot assume and must keep their guard up at all times. Having said this, the juxtaposing idea of Love Island is that the contestants cannot be too aware they are on the TV and being watched constantly, as this would threaten the authenticity of the programme and contestants would be labelled as playing a game. Thus, the contestants must constantly be playing a part of regulating their behaviour whilst also being themselves to ‘keep it real’, confusing right! This would be difficult for anyone to do, but in particular those with nero divergent thinking. For example in season 4, public favourite Niall vanished for the villa a week in. It was later found out that he had been ‘dumped’ from the villa after suffering from a stress induced psychosis. Thus demonstrating that anyone whose behaviour falls outside the norm and cannot appropriately meet the show’s standards of behaviour and self regulation, must be dealt with accordingly.
Following this and also the suicide of 3 of its previous cast members the show has received scrutiny over its welfare practices towards contestants. Prior to this, contestant welfare was practically nonexistent, no measures were in place to help islanders once they had left the villa on how to deal with the public after being cut off from the outside world for 2 months. In the most recent seasons welfare measures are in place, however people now claim the show to be not as it used to be, as its ‘fiery’ atmosphere has been dulled by the onsite psychologist. So is blandness the price we pay for contestant wellbeing?
Either way the success of this show is plain to see with more and more seasons being rolled out each year. However, when you uncover the real truth behind the show, the hunt to find love is almost villainous. Plus as host Ian Sterling said ‘you can only make fun of something being bad if it is actually quite good’.
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