Yes, it is possible to compare the worlds of academia and Love Island

Many historians will have spent this summer plying away at research leads in climatically confused, over and under-heated archives. I, meanwhile, of the swimwear-oriented 16-34 generation that hit audience figures of 1.7 out of 3.4 million viewers but lacking a Jet2Holidays ticket to Majorca, attended my research duties by casting a historians’ gaze over the contestants of Love Island 2018. Significant contributions to the field resulted: a body of research data that I believe could be vital to academics for weeks, if not months, to come (indeed, others have embraced the series as an under-appreciated educational tool too).

To use presenter Caroline Flack’s refrain, ‘in no particular order’, these ideas will remain on the island:

  • Grafting. Love Island contestants made a laudable commitment to the aim of winning their one true love(s) by ‘coupling up’. The effort this involves is called ‘grafting’. They worked and worked and worked: flirting, touching, kissing, creeping, cheating, lying, begging, bargaining, lounging, ‘doing bits’. Not unlike the world of academic networking, characters like Wes Nelson grafted cleverly and self-consciously: engaging his friends to stage manage alone-time with Megan Barton-Hanson, he then firmly stated his unwillingness to concede her to another man… The fruits of his grafting? He got the girl. But was this collaborative, casual or coercive?[*] The idea of grafting at a human relationship suggests the subjects of our efforts are in a one-way social vortex – a feeling that many academics will (if secretly) agree occurs at those events and locations where merry networks, relationship-building and collaboration are supposed to arise organically. But when we are grafted it is uncomfortable, ‘why are you working on me’, we wonder… Wes’ insistence that he would graft for his Love Island sweetheart was endearing but it was also deterministic. These unclear boundaries might be explored in some of our more mercenary academic interactions too.

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  • Loyalty. Not to be sneered at, this rather archaic of values made a comeback in this year’s Love Island. Albeit, in name only: in practice a ‘show of firm and constant support or allegiance’ was never paramount on any contestant’s mind, least of all its most vocal proponent, Georgia’s.[*] In an era when being ‘loyal’ to a university affiliation is a one-way street of miserly pensions, contract disputes, and fear of redundancy perhaps historians can learn to use Georgia’s version of loyalty too: tactically, voraciously and temporarily.

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  • Being mugged off. This happened a lot on Love Island: in the name of love and limited rules of play contestants deceived and thereby disrespected their friends and partners with a frequency akin to the intrigue of the Tudor Royal Court. In academia, as in Love Island, most will admit that a ‘passion’ or a ‘love’ of their subject is what drives their career trajectories: it’s not just a job, it’s an emotionalised lifestyle choice. Similarly, there are very few clear-cut rules in academia: questionable definitions and expectations of ‘excellence’, a deceptively glamourised and lawless realm of publishing, the never-ending play of cunning to ensure work is cutting-edge and showcases your difference, short-term contracts, funding competition and restructures that fuel internecine distrust and lies… Not surprising then, that academics regularly feel as ‘muggy’ as many declared they were within the villa. One of my favourite contestants, Laura, was made a regular ‘mug’ but she was celebrated for her decorous and (usually) mature response to her experiences of deception and disrespect.[†] I’m only guessing, but maybe Laura understood that being mugged off was part of her journey to success? She was annoyed and defensive about it but never debilitated. Her honesty about disappointment and idealistic outlook was maintained with a preservation of dignity that might somehow also be applicable to an academic career? A little mugginess goes a long way.
  • A love of nature. This was a curveball research insight. Jack, one half of Love Island’s winning couple, revealed a cornucopia of knowledge about the animal kingdom while living in the villa. Resting quietly on a bean bag by the swimming pool he started mornings meditating on Majorca’s migrant birds. Fuelling party conversations, he wowed his friends with facts about polar bears. His fascination for nature gave Jack a source of joy and interest in an otherwise claustrophobic and presumably repetitive environment. Lesson? Cultivate a love of nature: get away from your desk, look out of the window, feed your cat.

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[*] This isn’t a post on gender, sexuality, race and objectification on Love Island – for starters, please see: https://www.refinery29.uk/2018/06/200829/love-island-feminism; https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/newsbeat-44686074; https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/shortcuts/2018/jun/26/single-black-female-love-island-the-problem-with-race-and-dating.

[†] She wasn’t squeaky clean.

[*] Although since leaving with Sam Bird, in a loyal-ish couple, there is no doubt that some of those slurs against her best characteristic are being debunked: https://www.cosmopolitan.com/uk/entertainment/a22154239/love-island-georgia-loyal/

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