Love Island: Better than Oxbridge and harder to get into

Erotic capital may be all the reality television show’s contestants have or need

Love Island contestant Maura Higgins. Photograph: Facebook

Love Island contestant Maura Higgins. Photograph: Facebook

 

The reality television show Love Island features barely literate mannequins isolated on a holiday villa competing to win a prize.

Currently captivating record numbers of Irish and British viewers each night on ITV2 and Virgin Media Two, the contestants on the show are not unduly burdened by any sense of intellectual prowess: “Is Barcelona in Rome?” a contestant asked earlier this month.

Love Island is now a cultural weather vane and each summer inspires any number of off-the-peg think pieces about the dumbing down of our education systems and the meretricious appeal of a show which ruthlessly objectifies its young, slim and good-looking participants.

Such has been the commercial success of this year’s series that the broadcaster has just announced that Love Island will now screen twice a year with a new winter edition

The finger-wagging and eye-rolling at this latest iteration of televisual detritus was rudely interrupted by a major economic consultancy group, Frontier Economics, when it published research which showed that appearing on Love Island was a far better career choice – financially speaking – than completing an undergraduate degree at either Oxford or Cambridge.

The consultancy group’s figures showed that a Love Island contestant would make more from just eight weeks or less appearing on the show than an Oxbridge graduate would make over a lifetime.

Advertising revenue

Love Island also brings in big money for ITV.

The company had been suffering from serious falls in its advertising revenue until this year’s contestants pulled on their barely-there swimwear and the cameras started rolling.

Such has been the commercial success of this year’s series – it is the most watched programme in the golden 16-34 year old demographic – that the broadcaster has just announced that Love Island will now screen twice a year with a winter edition being filmed in South Africa next January.

The not inconsiderable money earned by each and every Love Island contestant comes from sponsorship and endorsement deals as well as appearance fees once the show has finished.

Despite the financial allure, many turn down the opportunity to participate

You may be of the opinion that what they are endorsing – make-up, clothing, etc – is of nugatory value. But it was a cheap and cheerful €25 liquid lipstick with matching lip pencil that helped Kylie Jenner (of the extended Kardashian family) become the youngest self-made billionaire in history.

According to Forbes magazine, Jenner’s estimated $1 billion wealth comes primarily from her make-up company. The financial magazine also pointed out that Jenner became a billionaire aged 21, whereas Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg took until he was all of 23 and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates until he was all of 31 before they became self-made billionaires.

The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu famously referred to our “capital” as being either economic (our financial resources), cultural (our intelligence and education) or social (how we get on with friends and contacts).

That was updated a few years ago by the British sociologist Catherine Hakim to include erotic capital – a mix of sexual and social attractiveness. Scoring high on erotic capital may override in itself any deficiencies you have in economic, human and social capital.

Social mobility

It is a form of capital we instinctively recoil from – as we are socially conditioned not to judge people by their attractiveness. Because it is a form of capital that owes nothing to class origin and thus promotes accelerated social mobility, it is devalued and dismissed. In the same manner as Love Island is devalued and dismissed.

But their erotic capital may be all the Love Island contestants have or need.

Not that Love Island should be used as an exemplar of a brave, new meritocratic world. With its insistence on a very limited range of age and attractiveness among its applicants Love Island is a lot more elitist, exclusionary and discriminatory than Oxford and Cambridge ever have been.

Many who appear on the show have not applied, instead they have been asked to participate because they work as models and have a large Instagram following.

Despite the financial allure, many turn down the opportunity to participate. It’s not just the social media death threats and sordid tabloid exposés that are now an intrinsic part of the reality TV experience.

As one of this year’s refuseniks told the programme makers when he was asked to participate: “I don’t want to have to promote tooth-whitening products for the rest of my life”.

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