Updated: Mar 22
Did anything good come out of Love Island?
Despite it being a year since reality show Love Island was last on our screens, the showbiz news seems to be dominated by former contestants at the moment, for both positive and negative reasons. On the one hand, Dr Alex George, made famous by the 2018 series, has recently been appointed as the government’s mental health ambassador, which is testament to his powerful campaigning after the tragic death of his younger brother last year. On the other hand, there has been uproar over the trips to Dubai made by ex-Islanders during the pandemic, justified as ‘essential work’ by those who managed to escape the UK lockdown. All these headlines, regardless of the reasons, are a consequence of the recent rise of the ‘influencer’.
Only a few years ago, the job social media influencer didn’t exist, and what it entails is still a mystery to many. The concept of someone utilising familiar outlets such as Instagram and TikTok to make a career is still new, so the boundaries are still being set, and the unofficial terms and conditions are still being written. However, this feels like a cultural déjà vu. Just a decade ago similar conversations were being had about YouTubers, now they are celebrities in their own right, with the likes of Joe Sugg and Saffron Barker appearing on mainstream shows such as Strictly Come Dancing. Rewind a further decade and reality TV stars were still a novelty, whereas today they often dictate popular culture. The ‘influencer’ signals a new phrase of celebrity, albeit one we have not quite adjusted to yet.
But there is something about the ‘Love Island influencer’ that is of particular interest. Yes, they are ready-made stars, with brand deals and discount codes falling at their feet before their suitcase has been packed to leave the villa. However, we as an audience have watched these people become overnight celebrities. The show that we watch has made them successful, so to some extent we believe that they are accountable to us and that we have a right to control that success.
Whilst the criticism of influencers for behaving irresponsibly is completely valid, there have been many instances of Love Island contestants being condemned for decisions they have made. Molly-Mae Hague is a key example. Despite not winning in 2019, her business ventures have made her one of the show’s biggest success stories. However, it appears since leaving the villa, the 21-year-old’s every move has been subject to scrutiny, by both the tabloids and online trolls. What she wears, what she purchases, how she does her make-up… it’s as if we are trying to root out the flaws in what is a very impressive career. The relentless abuse seems to be on a scale not often seen, and I believe this is partly due to the imaginary relationship we feel we have with those who have appeared on a show that we’ve interacted with.
But whilst we are stuck on the negative connotations of influencers, we perhaps overlook those who have used their platform, and their newfound celebrity status, to create positive change. Chris Hughes became a brand ambassador for the charity Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), and in 2019 he took a live testicular exam on This Morning to encourage others to check for cancer. Camilla Thurlow and Jamie Jewitt, who met on the 2017 series, take part in humanitarian work and are closely involved with Choose Love, an organisation that supports refugees. Plus, Malin Andersson uses her Instagram presence to speak openly about her experiences with domestic abuse and baby loss, and to promote self-love and body positivity. In all of these cases, influencers have been able to influence their following in a productive and inspiring way, and this should be celebrated.
The ‘influencer’ and its place in society is still being defined, and with Love Island set to return later this year, it is a role that will naturally be interrogated further in the coming months and years. Although there is a compelling argument that those in the public eye should be held responsible for their actions and called out for promoting dangerous behaviour, we perhaps also need to remind ourselves that behind the influencer is a person who has flaws and makes mistakes. The debates surrounding this issue are nuanced and should be treated as such; accountability and kindness can and should coexist, including when the ‘influencer’ is concerned.