Anthony Clavane: Why has Love Island become part of our national conversation

On Monday night, I lost control of the remote. As Bob Dylan wrote, 55 years ago and in an admittedly different context: 'Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command.'

The ITV show Love Island has become hugely popular, especially with younger audiences. (photo: ITV Plc).
The ITV show Love Island has become hugely popular, especially with younger audiences. (photo: ITV Plc).

My son, daughter – and her friend – were certainly beyond my command that night as they settled down to watch the final of Love Island. Or should that be finale?

This is not my biggest problem with the wildly-popular, so-bad-it’s-good reality show. But, still, surely “finale” means the last scene or closing part of a series? As opposed to the deciding event of a competition, which is a “final”. The best way to sum up the difference between the two words, which are often used interchangeably, would be to say that a finale cannot have a final, but a final can have a finale. I hope that clears things up.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Of course, such pedantry is one of the reasons why I not only lost control of the remote but was, eventually, banished from the room.

It was explained to me, as Dylan once explained to the middle-aged squares who poured scorn on the young rebels of the 60s, that I shouldn’t criticise what I couldn’t understand. And my old road was rapidly ageing.

I was, to be fair, a bit mugged off by this. Love Island is now, we are told, as much a part of the British summer as Ascot, Wimbledon and Glastonbury.

Do I have to be a horse-loving reveller to attend the famous races?

Do I have to love strawberries and cream and understand the rules for a tiebreaker to be 
admitted on to the Centre Court at SW19?

Do I have to eat falafel and grilled halloumi burgers, and know the (three) words to “Oh Jeremy Corbyn”, to be allowed into Glasto?

Should middle-aged squares like myself be allowed to watch, and indeed criticise, reality TV shows clearly aimed at 18-to-34-year-olds? Well, yes. It is, apparently, part of the national conversation. It holds up a mirror to modern life.

It is a cultural phenomenon. It shows that it is perfectly possible to fall hopelessly in love with your future life-partner in the space of eight weeks under the voyeuristic gaze of millions of viewers.

And it’s certainly better than middle-aged squares pretending they really “get” these shows. Like those Tory hipsters who thought it would be a groovy idea to attract 18-to-34-year-olds to their party by giving away Love Island water bottles. Or those experts on Newsnight who argued there was “a lot of really interesting economics” going on in the villa.

And that the show had injected a bit of “old-world courting” into the waxed, spray-tanned islanders’ shallow lives. Back in the day, I’m not sure that manipulative cliffhangers, distressing mind games and chatting nonsense about various bedtime shenanigans would qualify as old-world courting.

Last year, in fact, I happened to catch an excellent stage show about old-world courting. Featuring a small group of senior citizens, All The Sex I’ve Ever Had was a raw, moving and mostly hilarious exploration of the romantic histories of post-war baby-boomers.

It was open, confessional, warm and fearless, a no-holds-barred look a group of ordinary people’s previously-secret histories. Clearly, the performers found delving into, and publicly revealing, the intimate details of their lives to be a cathartic experience. 

As did the theatre audience. For the show was about so much more than sex. It was about the stories we like to tell ourselves about our lives. Those turning up for a bit of titillation would have left disappointed.

So, I admit it. I don’t get Love Island. I don’t get a show which encourages strangers to couple and recouple in front of 37 hidden cameras.

I don’t understand why it has been part of the national conversation, how it holds up a mirror to modern life, how it became a cultural phenomenon. Having watched a bit of the finale – sorry final – I remain immune to its charms.

Although that brief glimpse confirmed my worry that in a digital age of too-frequently-shared intimacies there is very little left to arouse the curiosity of a generation which, if this so-bad-it’s-bad show is anything to go by, is beyond my ken.