On the official launch night ITV2’s Love Island, returning for its second series, quickly amassed over two million viewers as well as an additional one million followers across respective social media platforms. Yet even with its popularity among diverse audiences, it manages to remind me that ‘old sins cast long shadows’. Love Island and shows of this nature often present themselves as a distraction from the mundane, our source of escapism via our television sets. Part of the allure lies in the choice of exotic location; a taste of the fantastical while giving us a glimpse into the lives of people playing out before us. Love Island appears at times to be unintentionally giving us a microcosm of where society lies at present. An island where rampant licentiousness is promulgated over our television screens begs the question of whether programs like these help in lowering moral standards within society. When contestants are encouraged to flaunt their sexual exploits to an audience all too happy to celebrate this behaviour, then should we also view the fascination with love island as a by-product of social movements like the sexual revolution that took place in the 1960s, which sought to influence and shape how we view issues of morality and sexuality in society?
Love Island is a show centred around contestants (islanders) thrown together in a villa located in Mallorca. Just like all good reality TV shows today, the star of the show is the ever watchful video camera, the Orwellian ‘big brother’, capturing surveillance of the islanders’ every move and relaying back to audiences every sordid detail. Within Love Island the term ‘survival of the fittest’ takes on a literal meaning, as these contestants couple up with each other motivated by first impressions, which often boils down to whether a person is fit or not, ‘love’ (or whatever constitutes love nowadays) or friendship, while not forgetting the small sum of £50,000, the ultimate prize these couples hope to attain if they survive the island without being eliminated. Far from being a model for promoting healthy, monogamous relationships, the couples within the island have the option to ‘re-couple’, essentially swapping out partners as they feel, leaving the jilted partner vulnerable and open to elimination. Ultimately, as with the general trend within the world of reality television, the public vote often is a huge factor in determining a couples’ fate on the island, with the couples who receive the fewest votes being sent home.
It is difficult to avoid the stark parallels and not view the sexual revolution of the swinging sixties as the precursor to this. The ‘sexual revolution,’ also known as the sexual liberation was both a social and political movement that aimed to challenge the conventional attitudes and social mores of the previous generation. The post-war babies of the 40s and 50s had now become soldiers and revolutionaries in their own right, conscripted into a battle to redefine sex. It built itself on the premise that sex could no longer be repressed by church and state and instead advocated for greater sexual freedom. Once liberated from being confined to the marital bed, it was now enjoyed by those unmarried. This resulted in an increase in divorce rates whilst simultaneously giving way to a dramatic decrease in those seeking marriage. With this new attack on the intimacy of sex, it quickly became a public affair as people took to the squares, parks and public spaces as communal sex was practiced with increasing fervency.
If the sexual revolution was to succeed in setting the world alight, it needed the right amount of fuel to ignite it and found it in abundance. The introduction of the birth control pill in 1960, giving women unprecedented access to new methods of contraception meant that they were now free to practice casual sex without ‘consequences’. Innovations in the world of medicine also allowed greater sexual freedom as sexually transmitted diseases such as syphillis were now treatable with penicillin. Of course, with heightened promiscuity among sexual partners, venereal disease was still rife. However, with the shift in attitudes this was celebrated in active rebelliousness and defiance, worn like a badge of honour immune to any social stigma and ridicule. Television also became a useful tool through out the sixties. As the social and political struggles of the sexual revolution gained momentum, television, still in its infancy granted an easier and more accessible method of transmitting the views and values of the movement. People felt the sense of interaction with the social shift occurring now that television had become an effective machine for normalizing sexual behaviour.
The sexual revolution was championed by other movements of the time, most notably, the feminist movement, who equated this sense of sexual freedom as a way of gaining equality for women. With more women entering the world of employment during this period, many feminists seized the sexual revolution as another milestone reinforcing womens’ right to choose their own sexual partners without conforming to the dictates of family or religious institutions. In retrospect, it becomes difficult to view the sexual revolution as anything more than declaring it ‘open season’ on the continued objectification of women, as often, their male counterparts in this revolution only found value in the fleeting and momentary pleasure during the act of sex. Whilst sexual gratification may have been attained by both parties, it gave men free reign to detach themselves of all feeling and emotion, ridiculing women who sought deeper relationships. Framed in those terms, it seems fair to conclude that the sexual revolution of the sixties never achieved its purpose in attempting to recreate a sexual experience devoid of personal attachment.
Just as television played a crucial role in promoting this revolution to a wider audience, it feels like mainstream media are more than happy to pick up the baton dropped by the ‘soldiers of the sixties’, with television shows such as Love Island, the brainchild of a socially flawed movement. Together with the introduction of social media platforms, media corporations appear caught in a web of their own contradictions. On one hand, often leading the fight in efforts to combat and police the so called ‘dark side’ of the web in an era where with the click of a button, audiences are transported to a world where the effects of the sexual revolution are clearly seen, a world where sexual immorality is exploited all in the pursuit of profit and at the same time, television broadcasters are reverting audiences back to an age that celebrated licentiousness with shows that amount to nothing more than dramatized version of the swinging sixties.