About this Research Topic
Attracting an estimated four million viewers, the 2018 series of the ITV2 reality television programme Love Island initiated widespread public engagement with concepts normally confined to sociology and gender studies lecture halls and discussion among activists. The practice of “gas lighting” and the treatment of racialised bodies become two topics widely debated across broadcast and social media. The series also prompted over 2,500 complaints to Ofcom, with some viewers accusing its producers of the emotional abuse of a cast member. The active engagement of viewers through social media and in other discussions highlights that we need to critically re-appraise the idea of active viewership.
In Love Island, questions of gender, sexuality and the conduct of intimate relationships take centre stage. The programme consists of a game explicitly centred on heterosexual romance, in which the goal is to find a match, gain the support of viewers, and win the prize of £50,000. While the “game” is constructed around receiving the most public votes and winning the prize money, it is widely recognised that the motivation of contestants is to build their celebrity, with the prospect of future media work and product sponsorships. Success is often measured in terms of the number of social media followers. Capturing viewers’ support while also maintaining a pairing that appears to be based on an authentic attraction is no easy feat.
Gender, sexuality and intimacy are core concerns of sociological analysis. How contestants conduct themselves in the game, how relationships develop and often unravel before viewers’ eyes, and how contestants’ behaviour sparks public conversation are all topics that invite and excite the sociological imagination. Indeed, reality television has been a potent site for analysing the production and contestation of social norms and modes of representation since its initial popularity in the early 2000s. As a genre, reality television is a space in which embodied gendered, classed and raced subjectivities are actively valued and de-valued in the context of ethical encounters. While these encounters are in varying degrees actively managed, staged, edited and curated by technicians and producers, they are often experienced as an extension of the world viewers inhabit.
With this article collection on Love Island, we are seeking to explore such questions such as:
- how are heterosexual norms constructed and challenged?
- in what ways does the show raise issues about the ethical conduct of intimate relationships, and how have these issues been explored (or ignored) in wider public discussion?
- how are masculinity and femininity performed and challenged through relationships and friendships?
- how does gender intersect with age, ethnicity and social class?
- what form does active viewership take through the engagement of viewers through social media (and other fora)?
We welcome contributions that speak to these questions and any others that have been raised by the programme and its reception. We particularly welcome contributions that draw on sociological theories of gender, relationships and intersectionality to unpick the sociological potential of Love Island.
Keywords: Gender, Sexuality, Intimate relationships, racialised bodies, viewership, ethical conduct, intersectionality