The latest season of British reality show Love Island is set to hit TV screens at the unconventional tea-time hour of 5pm. Jihee Junn explains why the decision is troubling.
Update, 1 October 2019: The Broadcasting Standards Authority has ruled that the edited version of Love Island that ran at 5pm on Three earlier this year did not violate rules around broadcasting to children.
Here are five words I never thought I’d say: I agree with Bob McCoskrie.
That’s right, even a stopped clock is right twice a day because McCoskrie – national director of conservative Christian lobby group Family First and vehement opponent of trans rights, abortion rights, and same-sex marriage – actually, for once, makes a very good point. That is, that 5pm is too early – far too early – to be airing Love Island on TV.
“This is a programme with explicit sexual content and also explicit language,” McCoskrie told Stuff. “I also have had concern expressed around body image and the messages it’s sending to young people, and especially young girls,” adding that the show promotes “voyeurism”, “sexualisation”, and “a pornification of our culture”.
For those unfamiliar with the UK’s biggest reality show for several years running, Love Island involves a group of singles living in an isolated villa in Mallorca, Spain. In order to stay in the villa and have a shot at winning the grand prize, contestants must ‘couple up’, whether it be for love, friendship or tactical alliance. Over the next few weeks, madness ensues as new contestants enter the villa and couples attempt to curry the favour of the viewing public who ultimately decide who takes home the £50,000 prize.
At its best, Love Island is a fascinating study in human behaviour. Airing six nights a week for approximately an hour, the show allows us to observe the shifting minutiae of social dynamics between Islanders far more than any other mainstream dating show. As contestants jostle for dominance, power and most of all, affection (from fellow contestants and the public), Love Island is romantic game theory in motion.
Of course, I also love it because it’s chaotic, scandalous and painstakingly hilarious, like when season three contestant Chris Hughes didn’t know how to spell Jason Statham, or when Dr Alex George (yes, a real-life medical doctor was on this show) offered pen salesman Jack Fincham this truly galactic take.
At its worst, however, Love Island is a gratuitous display of superficiality, slut-shaming and emotional abuse. The show’s premise often coalesces some of the worst parts of today’s dating culture and showcases an incredibly narrow definition of attraction with its failure to include any meaningful LGBTQ+ representation.
Love it or not, the reality is that Love Island is a deeply flawed show. They’re flaws that discerning viewers will be able to recognise, but many who tune in at 5pm won’t be those discerning viewers. They’ll be children, young people and adolescents who don’t know shit about how relationships work. Not to sound too Helen Lovejoy-esque, but kids are impressionable and so are teens, regardless of how much the latter insist they’re not. Showcasing dimly lit sexytimes and scantily clad bods isn’t exactly ideal in an after-school time slot once occupied by Family Feud, but the bigger issue stems from the fact that this is a show that deals with adult problems: relationships, romance, and sex, which are all further complicated by its ‘gamification’ for entertainment purposes. This is reality TV, after all.
In response to Family First’s accusations of “pornification”, chief content officer at Mediaworks, Andrew Szusterman, said the network would be reviewing and, if necessary, cutting scenes to make them appropriate for a general audience. That means no explicit content, no drunkenness, and no near nudity, which is a bit of an ask. Szusterman also added that Three’s target demographic isn’t young people, but those between 24-54, although how many 24-54-year-olds will be home from work by 5pm, I don’t really know.
Considering the massive role Love Island has played in the rejuvenation of linear TV, it’s plausible to think that Three’s unconventional tea-time time slot is a push to expose the show to as many new viewers as possible. It’s also plausible to think that it’s a move to drive more viewers to use its on-demand service since the uncut versions are made available online. The most simple explanation, of course, is to do with scheduling – making room in the evenings for a show that airs six nights a week isn’t exactly an easy task.
Whatever the reasoning, Three’s decision to air a 9pm show at 5pm is strange, bizarre and kind of troubling, even more so by its insistence it’ll cut all the Bad Bits out. Some of McCroskie’s grievances (“explicit sexual content”!!!) are a bit hysterical, but essentially, he’s right: 5pm is too damn early.