Mark Simpson on this Summer’s smash-hit dating show: ‘a comedy of compulsory heterosexuality’.
(Telegraph Men, 18 July, 2017)
Utopian fantasies have long gripped the human imagination. Famous, brainy – but sadly, not very buff – thinkers such as Plato (in the 4th Century BC), Thomas Moore (in the 16th AD) and HG Wells (in the 20th), sketched out what an ideal society might look like. But their philosophical visions were never realised.
It wasn’t until the early 21st Century that someone finally had the brilliant idea of ditching ethics for aesthetics, taking a sun-drenched island, covering it in decking, astroturf, pools, lip gloss, and steel-reinforced, musical double beds. And then adding cameras. Lots and lots of cameras, to catch all the love-hate action between the goodly, beauteous creatures that inhabit this brave new world. And who mostly speak with an Essex accent.
I coined the phrase ‘spornosexual‘ to finger second-generation, body-centred, ‘hardcore’ metrosexuals – those buffed-up, barely-dressed young men kindly sharing their porny selfies on social media. Now ITV2 has given them a dream home – Spornotopia. Otherwise known as Love Island.
Love Island is the ratings hit of the summer; a socio-cultural phenomenon. It’s essentially a very expensive porn set, where babelicious women sit on beanbags discussing the size of their own silicone beanbags – while young spornosexual men and their shaped eyebrows labour in the outdoor gym to inflate their meat beanbags. And in the evening, everyone ‘recouples’. All sponsored by Superdrug.
I’ve seen the future, and it works out. And waxes. It also shags a lot – but perhaps that’s because the porntastic islanders are not allowed access to porn. In an exquisitely horny paradox, Love Island is a world based on porn in which porn doesn’t exist. Save the really exploitative, emotional variety.
Hence we don’t see any action – just c**k-blocking duvets. This is primetime, so phallic ice lollies and single entendre games with sausages have to do a lot of symbolic work.
Then again, maybe instead of bumping uglies, really bad acting by really beautiful people is what porn is.
In this perfect society – or society of perfection – everyone is a glamour model. But the men are more glamorous than the girls. They and their auto-airbrushed bodies are the tarty stars of the show (as the pectastic Love Island ident advertises). They are, as they never stop telling us, ‘the total package’. However, this can lead to problems in paradise – where everyone’s true love is their own reflection, and ITV2 is their selfie stick.
“The boys are more vain than the gels,” one of the young women [Chloe Crowhurst, 22, Essex] complains. “They come in the dressing room, take up all the mirrors, all the hairdryers and straighteners. They shave and wax everything, including their arms and fingers! Even I don’t do that! Kem spends 40 mins a day just blow drying ‘is ‘air!”
Kem Cetinay, 21, Essex, is a powerful figure on the island and a seminal figure for our time: not just because he’s pretty and buff and funny, but because he’s a hair stylist. He keeps the lads’ sharp cuts sharp, and they love him for it: “The fact that Ken is a barber makes my life a dream,” confessed Dom Lever, 26 – who himself gave the lads manicures.
“We’ll do anything to look good. We’re not embarrassed about that,” says Kem.
Though some of the women try to make them. Hence the protests when Alex Beattie, 22, a buff, already absurdly attractive Geordie, receives a beauty treatment from Kem and his best friend andprettiness peer in the villa, Chris Hughes, 24: “They’re literally grooming him!” “It’s like a cult! That we’re not involved in!”
Eventually, as Alex is having his toenails painted, the girls stage an intervention, bursting in on the scene and screaming: ‘What the f*** is going on!!’. But Alex doesn’t want to be rescued, and is more interested in admiring his fetching new toes. The girls retreat in confusion: “We came on Love Island to find MEN! What have we done??”
Love Island is probably the gayest and certainly the campest show on telly. Something only compounded by the fact that no one on Love Island is actually, or at least officially, gay. It’s a comedy of compulsory heterosexuality – if you don’t couple up, you get kicked off. Much like life. And it hardly needs me to say this – because the knowing, fabulously catty narration by Scottish comedian Iain Stirling perfectly articulates all the on-screen camping around.
Gone is the formal objectivity of Big Brother’s date stamp in a Sunderland accent. Love Island’s voiceover archly pokes fun at the promiscuous fidelity of the contestants, their hair-flicking contests, and professions of undying (self) love. And even at the concept of the show itself.
“As we all know, this is love Island, not Friend Island” explains Stirling. “But there is one very important loophole. The bromance. And Kem and Chris are exploiting it to within an inch of its life.” The dreamers! Kem: “If we end up not coupling up you reckon they’ll let you and me couple up?” Chris: “I hope so. I wouldn’t mind coupling up with you.” Kem: “I’d share a bed with you.” Chris: “All day and every day.”
Cue a montage of them spooning and showering together and Kem cutting Chris’ hair – which is the real sex on Love Island. Chris, who apparently has the largest penis on the Island, reassures Kem, whose penis is apparently smaller: “It’s nice – and when it gets going it really gets going. Are we showering again this evening?” They even try to clipper each other’s initials into their pubes.
Compared to the Darwinian official heterosexuality of the show, bromance can seem sweetly spontaneous and loving. Even if it may be, as Stirling suggests, simply another ploy.
Either way, it’s indicative of how many straight young men are impressively unafraid of appearing ‘gay’ these days – only 50 years after male homosexuality was decriminalised. All the fears of those who opposed the law change seem to have come true. Beautifully.
And if Kem really is in love with Chris, it’s only to be expected in Spornotopia. “Every single person in this house fancies me,” sighs an exhausted Chris to himself/us at one point. He’s not bragging or exaggerating.