Few things in life grasp the collective gaze of a nation like a successful reality television show.
Since making its comeback in the summer of 2015, ITV2's magnum opus Love Island has established itself as Survivor for the Snapchat generation, attracting more than six million viewers just last year.
The show, which premises itself around the idea of finding love but acts primarily as a zeitgeist social experiment, showcases both the light and dark of human relationships, albeit concentrated under the gaze of social media's harshest setting.
Love Island's concept, albeit simple, has found a sweet spot in the eyes of Western media in that it can bask in surface-level adoration while also be scrutinized at length by broadsheet newspapers.
Is this the reason why its found itself as a cornerstone of British intrigue – most especially at a time when almost everything else in Britain seems to have fallen flat?
Possibly. But, something else worth noting is that in our now wholly visual generation – that relies on swipe-up Instagram stories for news and moving optics for confirmation – it teaches us both the dizzying highs and crushing lows of reality in a way that we have lost out on in curricula.
Famously, the teaching of RSE (Relationships and Sexuality Education) in Ireland is lacking at best and negligent at worst.
As it stands, both RSE and SPHE (Social, Personal and Health Education) are mandatory for both primary and post-primary students - however, what is taught is largely up to the individual teacher and also there is a legal obligation to stay within the ethos of the school.
The Provision of Objective Sex Education Bill 2018 – fronted by TDs Paul Murphy, Bríd Smyth and Ruth Coppinger – which is based on the importance of updating the sexual education curriculum in Ireland, passed the committee stage of the Dáil in April 2018.
However, the government has not given a ‘money message’ for this Bill so it has not progressed onto formal committee stage.
A money message is a formal note to say that they will budget for any costs that arise from the change in the law.
As a result – not taking into account the many wonderful State-taught educators who eschew these rules to encourage healthy relationships within their classrooms – adolescents, and a number of adults who the system has failed, learn largely from experience and other perceptible means.
Allowing a birds-eye view into intrapersonal relationships – be they platonic or romantic – is an education few of us have had and many desperately need.
Just last year, the show taught us how to pinpoint whether simply two people weren't right for each other – or if darker forces such as gaslighting were at play.
READ: Know Your Rights – Psychological Abuse In Relationships Is A Legal Offence In Ireland
The process is more than just plain meanness. Whereas “unkind” is the language of children’s books and schoolyard tiffs, “gaslighting” hints at a slow, psychological poison.
For just as physical abuse should not be diminished – and attempts to minimise it should be resisted – psychological abuse is just as cruel a mistress, reducing the victim to a shadow of their former selves.
Let’s jump straight to it: Sunday night's show was a perfect example.
Producers made the decision to edit in a very telling example about one of the newly minted Islanders.
Coffee bean salesman Connor – a man who legitimately bought his teeth on Google – cemented his status as Alpha Lad by telling a story about how he managed to have a threesome on a first date.
It all started so well.
Then, moments later, by way of flirtiness or genuine shock, his partner Sophie took a soft jab at him – using only the information he had so willingly provided.
"You’ve got yourself a keeper, not one that has a threesome on a first date!", she said to a fellow contestant, when discovering that her partner had slept with less than twenty women.
A visibly scorned Connor then turned to Sophie and said: "You hate me tonight... you're hating me."
She playfully brushed it off, to which he continued: "You're digging me out already, you are."
Connor already being problematic, why he look like he was about to lose his shit over a joke girl RUN #LoveIsland pic.twitter.com/3rakAp2j6o— TaeJin⁷ (@Bang_tannie17) January 12, 2020
Obviously it's pointless to truly judge a reality show by its first inning, but already the show is teaching us hard-learned lessons that are very often too difficult to put into words.
To the viewer, it seemed that control is something that is very important to Connor – especially when it's reflective of himself.
When this control is relinquished, he acts out by way of making the person who caused this effect to question their decisions.
This practice oftentimes proves far more insidious by way of gradually eating away at those on the receiving end of it.
If this has taught us anything, it's that psychological manipulation and controlling behaviour is far more common than we give credit for. While this instance is that of male behaviour, once should also be aware that women are also not innocent.
The only positive thing to come out of these incidents is that if they’re so obvious on screen – and heartily disapproved of on social media – women might recognise it and have the courage to speak out if it happens to them.
The show itself is easy to disregard – and many will – but it is instances like this that prove that the show's format is needed to highlight the modern place dealings most face that simply can't or won't be taught in lesson plans.
Of course, relationships that kick off with allocated coital hours on a popular gameshow are unlikely to result in fairytale endings.
But, regardless of the length of courtship, contestants should have the right to respect and basic human decency, without being branded "childish" for expressing a modicum of emotion.
Many of us have fallen victim to the charms of a feckless Romeo, and blaming a woman for your inability to take a dig is just another form of casual misogyny, one we’ve almost accepted because it’s so common.
If you have been affected by domestic abuse, Women’s Aid operates a 24hr National Freephone Helpline: 1800 341 900
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