Patrick Freyne on Love Island: I had forgotten how oddly asexual the hunks are
The Love Island hunks do press-ups in tiny shorts – just like we do at The Irish Times
Love Island: Real-life sculpted hunks and hunkettes are engaged in semi-naked horseplay
There’s a bit in Mary Beard’s excellent art history series The Shock of the Nude in which she wanders around a room filled with sculpted classical hunks. It makes me think of Love Island, because of, well, the hunks. Beard’s programme (Tuesday, BBC2) examines how sometimes more prurient motivations are obscured by “high-minded talk of beauty and the mobilising effects of art”.
It causes me to revisit my previous reviews of Love Island and realise that my reasons for writing them might not have entirely been about my appreciation of television craft, the elevation of high culture and the education of my readers in keeping with the articles of the Irish Times Trust. I now worry that all my highfalutin talk about the golden mean and classical symmetry may have been a front for gawping at hunks.
Then again, I’m not sure Beard’s motivations are entirely straightforward either. This is a documentary in which she gets to say: “Some viewers were not happy with David’s colossal genitalia.” I’m pretty certain that this is the sentence that got the programme commissioned.
The Love Island hunks chant and do impromptu press-ups and communal weightlifting while wearing tiny shorts. It very much reminds me of day-to-day life here at The Irish Times
On Love Island (Virgin Media One) on Monday night, some real-life sculpted hunks are engaged in the semi-naked horseplay for which they are beloved. I had forgotten how oddly asexual the hunks are. They’re like Monchichis or Smurfs. They’re also macho, however. They wrestle and climb all over each other and jump and hug. They chant things and engage in impromptu press-ups and communal weightlifting while wearing tiny shorts. In this respect, it very much reminds me of day-to-day life here at The Irish Times.
They are doing these things because a text on the phone tells them they are being sent off on a “lads’ holiday”. They’re being dispatched to Casa Amor, which excites them although it’s just the villa next door and it’s almost identical to the one in which they currently live, sleeping all together in one room like a weird human Sylvanian family.
They are told to sneak away so that the girls only gradually realise the boys have vanished. “The boys are gone!” cries a hunkette. They are all astonished by this, though it’s hardly The Rapture. Strange things are always happening in the villa thanks to the boffins on the other end of the text machine. Indeed, if you were to show psychologists from the late 20th century these scenarios – two identical houses in which groups of identically-shaped young folk are presented with scenarios and tests – they would instantly recognise it as a carefully constructed behaviouralist experiment (albeit one based on the premise that existence is meaningless and the behavioural psychologists have gone mad).
Six new girls enter Casa Amor. They say things like: “I am going into the villa to find love and nobody will stand in my way,” thus evoking Jesus, who also said stuff about love.
“I wish I’d worn some better shorts,” says one of the hunks nervously, thinking, no doubt, of the formal dress shorts he keeps in the wardrobe for affairs of state and job interviews.
Next door, icy-eyed presenter Laura Whitmore enters the original villa in slow motion, her accustomed mode of movement, and risks eviction from this British-controlled corner of South Africa (where the programme is shot) by revealing her Irish accent.
“Behold!” she cries (not in these exact words). “Hunks!”
Six new muscular hunks enter, one of whom, Ched, looks like six or seven men randomly strapped together with duct tape. One of the other hunks says: “I’m the whole package because I’m funny, I’m humble and I’m sexy,” correctly quoting from my job interview for The Irish Times eight years ago.
Many of the hunks and hunkettes are “coupled up” which is the nearest you get to marriage in hunk society, and therefore they are both troubled and excited by this new infusion of brash and boastful hunk-kind. They converse and gawp. The behavioural scientists in headquarters, who clearly hate them, get bored. They devise a task in which the two households must make a cocktail by passing the liquid ingredients in a chain of four people from one mouth to another until it’s a goopy cloudy mess in a fancy glass. This is not how cocktails are traditionally made, except perhaps in parts of Leitrim, and this activity, in the era of the coronavirus, seems certain to ensure none of them will be flying back to the UK anytime soon. “This is grim,” says one hunkette accurately.
The hunks and hunkettes kiss, writhe about on one another and suck on each other’s toes as per text instruction
After they’ve made their bizarre illness juice, they go back to conversing and gawping. “You are mustard and I am having you on toast,” says a man named George to a woman named Demi, either chatting her up or having an aphasic episode related to drinking spit. This is unclear and I am not a doctor. However, Demi squeals with delight no matter how neurologically worrying George’s statements become. Everyone consults each other and schemes like they’re in Sex Smurf Dangerous Liaisons and every kiss is observed by spectators.
A young woman named Shaughna weeps bitter tears over the idea that her beloved, Calum, a pathologically “cheeky” Mancunian, might be having sexy shenanigans in Casa Amor. Sadly, the clue is in the name. Casa Amor is foreign – possibly South African – for “sexy shenanigans”. Furthermore, Calum has issues with object permanence, much like a huge triangular toddler. Once Shaughna is out of his line of vision he struggles to recall her. And so, as Shaughna frets, he is having a steamy conversation with a hunkette named Molly.
“Do you watch serial killer documentaries on Netflix?” Molly asks Calum, seductively.
“I’ve watched most of them,” says Calum, in an erotically charged whisper. (This is perfectly normal discourse on Love Island and apparently nothing to be worried about.)
Back at production headquarters the boffins get bored again and they make the different households engage in acts of competitive sexiness in an event they call The Raunchy Races (on Wednesday they play a slightly more invasive version of the already creepy 1970s nightmare game Twister).
“What is the purpose of this experiment?” a sociology intern in a white coat asks.
“Who cares?” says a producer. “God is dead and the universe is empty and cold.”
The hunks and hunkettes kiss, writhe about on one another and suck on each other’s toes as per text instruction, making it even more certain that Love Island becomes a quarantined plague pit when the pandemic hits. There’s probably a historical precedent for all this. Mary Beard would know.