‘Did you watch Love Island last night?’ was a recurring question throughout summers 2017 and 2018. And yes, like thousands of others across the country, I did dip in and out of Love Island. I enjoyed it for its fun, frivolous, flirty entertainment: watching various beautiful people float around a large villa in glorious sunshine, with their only real concern being who is getting with whom — was rather entertaining. As I said, fun, frivolous and flirty.
While Love Island is an easy to watch, 20-somethings programme, what the show promotes, and the message it conveys, is worrying. To appear on the show your credentials must include: being young, toned, beautiful and, by the show’s casting producer Lewis Evans’ own admission, have a large online media following. When contestants leave the programme, many are immediately handed various fashion and beauty brands with which to partner and amass an even larger following, resulting in further fame and fortune. Given that Love Island is one of the most popular television shows in the 16–34 age bracket, promoting such ideals will, inevitably, have a real impact on young people’s psyche.
A great amount of debate revolves around the concerns such shows have on young people’s sense of self-worth, confidence, self-acceptance and mental health. While these are very important issues and need to be discussed, what isn’t discussed as much but should be is the influence such shows have on where millennials and Generation Z place value and consider what it means to be successful. Success comes in many forms and means different things to different people, but such instant fame takes too great a prominence in influencing young people’s decisions on careers and life paths.
Millennials’ and Generation Z’s obsession with fame is an increasing and disturbing trend: a report from the Telegraph last year highlighted that between 20 – 23 per cent of millennials would rather be famous than pursue a career in law or medicine, and 1 in 10 millennials would sacrifice their education for fame. This desire and determination to be famous is fuelled and highly influenced by the space where most young people consume information; namely online via social media.
Social media is, generally, a democratic platform and so what young people can find, see and are influenced by on various social media channels, is wide and extensive. With an endless number of bloggers, vloggers, and influencers, it allows millions of young people to believe that they too could achieve social media fame. We are constantly fed the idea that the more followers, likes or hits you have on your social media, the more popular and desirable you are. There are even websites where people can, literally, buy followers in bulk, fuelling the market for those who want to be famous and gain fame through popularity. And television shows, such as Love Island, with the added social media hype driven by the show and its production team, have a huge influence on the young and impressionable.
Such programmes do not address the more meaningful attributes that make a person successful: hard graft; perseverance; patience; resilience; tenacity. That message is totally lost. In the past, to be famous was a by-product of excelling in a certain field, whether that be in sport, music, politics, or business. Fame, now, is seen as an end in itself.
It takes time for credibility and expertise to be built up in a field, with many people achieving good levels of success in a career in their 40s and 50s. For those who are young (in their 20s, sometimes in their early-to-mid teens) and instantly famous however, fame comes, quite literally, overnight. People relate to, and associate themselves with, those in a similar age group and for young people, that instant fame has an impact on a generation where patience is non-existent and the need for immediate gratification dominates.
Reality and celebrity culture sends out wrong signals, not just in body image but what it means and takes to succeed. And many young people are influenced by such status and seek to achieve it, without realising that it takes a lot more than just body flaunting to achieve success, and that there are far more meaningful, fulfilling and life-enhancing paths and careers than fame.