On loving Love Island — why TV should never be a source of shame
“A real guilty pleasure,” my husband said, thoughtfully, “would be fucking a dog, or something. An act you should be ashamed of — something you’re definitely not supposed to do. You can’t feel guilty about watching TV, unless you’re watching it while ignoring someone who is being murdered in the corner of the room.”
The Bodkin-Buchanans have been watching Love Island. Admittedly, one half of the family truly adores, it, and the other is just enduring it for solidarity’s sake. But we’re united in our conviction that Kem is actually Arg from TOWIE, and probably less good at hairdressing than I am at cage fighting. We’ve both screamed “Yes Craig, WE KNOW WHAT YOU MEAN,” after he endlessly sought Camilla’s reassurance that the content of his speech was understood, in a sort of endless Estuary feedback loop. We’ve both been on the brink of dozing off, and then shat ourselves back to consciousness after Montana has popped up and shrieked “OHMIGOD!” because she’s just got a text, or seen a bird, or remembered that One Direction were technically only ever runners up in X Factor.
As Bridget Jones said of Pride And Prejudice, “Love the nation being so addicted!” Love Island is a glorious leveller. This summer, if you’re at a barbecue where you don’t know anyone you can simply sidle up to a stranger and say “That Johhny. What a fuckboy, eh?” and get a conversation started. It’s essential cosiness in these cruel and complicated times. I lie with my head in my husband’s lap, measuring my length on the brand new sofa which takes all 5 feet and seven inches of me without anyone having to hook their knees over the arm rest, and I know that I am in good company. I get to have a night in with millions of fellow fans, from Aberdeen to Yeovil, but I don’t have to remember how a million people take their tea during the ad break.
However, the success of Love Island has enraged a small but shouty minority of people, who are trying to redefine the idea of the guilty pleasure. These furious people feel that we’re getting far too much pleasure out of it, and we’re simply not guilty enough. I went on Woman’s Hour (if you’ve read Schmancy before, you’ll know about my occasional career as the ‘And finally…’ Girl) to talk about why dating shows were light, compelling, jolly TV, and how much fun I was having thanks to my nightly dose of island life. I really should have asked to talk about something much less controversial, like a campaign to get the government to supply whisky miniatures to six month old babies.
The show was “trash” and I was “trash” for watching. One very distressed person asked to be considered as a Radio 4 listener and not to be “lumped in with the Love Island scum”. A literary agent, who I think should have known better, posited his theory that the number of people who don’t watch the programme in the UK is equal to the number of people who do read. It was the worst kind of cruel, smug, toxic, classist, artificial intellectual superiority bollocks, and I said as much. My husband found my reply. “Have you been making passive aggressive Venn diagrams and tweeting them to people?” he said wearily, as if wishing that he’d put a line in his marriage vows that went “All of this is null and void if my wife starts being a dick on the internet.”
I don’t believe that the culture we choose to consume is necessarily what defines us. More importantly, other people definitely don’t get to use it to decide who we are. (Although I might make a nervous exception if you were to tell me that your favourite movie of all time is The Triumph Of The Will.) Or, rather, we are capable of loving so many different things at once, and there is so much for us to love. This should be a source of celebration but it’s a cause of constant cognitive dissonance. I don’t want to make judgements or assumptions about people based on their tastes, but I’m wary of anyone who does not enjoy Drag Race, Blue Planet and the novels of Jane Austen.
People can argue, until their faces ache, that Love Island is pointless bullshit, but that televised sporting events are of the utmost importance, and that they must watch them all. It doesn’t make any sense. Reading is a joy, a portal to pleasure, a comfort, a mind expander and an intoxicant — but if you claim that reading books makes you better than the big group of people who love a particular, popular TV programme, then you’ve probably missed the point of almost every single book you’ve ever come across. Or you’ve only ever actually read The Davinci Code and a free Dianetics paperback that was given to you by an intense man who had built an office behind the local bus shelter.
Guilt and shame are used to manipulate and control people. They can be useful emotions — hopefully, the shame you associate with your desire to fuck a dog might stop you from fucking the dog in the first place — but they’re usually more harmful than helpful. Growing up Catholic, and having had a lot of therapy as an adult, I’ve had to work hard on this. I used to be the sort of person who would feel guilty about having two Capri-Suns on the same day. When we describe something we enjoy consuming as a guilty pleasure, whether it’s TV, ice cream or the White Company catalogue, we’re saying “other people now have the right to make me feel ashamed of this, when there’s really no need to be”. Loving reality shows shouldn’t make you feel any better or worse about yourself than watching back to back BBC4 as you read Goethe in the original German. But if your guilty pleasure is saying cruel or smug sounding things to people because they like things that you don’t like, you’re no better than a dog-fucker.
This piece was originally published in Schmancy