Every summer my family are part of a youth camp where 160 young people (plus a few middle-agers) live in tents by the sea in Devon. We have been involved for 11 years and, though tiring, it is the best week of the year for all of us.
It is a Christian camp run by the Lee Abbey community. Each day, as well as games, activities and lounging around, there are sessions where we explore what Christianity has to say to our lives and today’s world.
This year, seminars were run on subjects like hope, mental health and politics. Following a request we also ran one on ‘Is God a Man?’ (but that’s for another blog).
I ran one on the TV show Love Island. Admittedly, my knowledge of the programme was a bit thin, but I had seen enough walking in and out of my own lounge to get the drift.
Many of the campers (aged 13-18) and fellow leaders had watched the show. One of the leaders was nervous about coming along and asked ‘Will I be bullied for watching it?’
So we made it clear that we did not want to judge anyone or tell them what to watch. But to generate an honest conversation about the show: the good, the bad and the ugly about what it promotes.
Intrigue and anxiety
In the end around 20 campers came along to the seminar. Around half were regular watchers of the show and only one person had never seen an episode.
To start things off, I asked people a series of questions and asked them to move across the marquee according to how much they agreed or disagreed.
We got a lot of honest comments: some said how intriguing people they found it and how attractive they found the contestants. Some watched ‘because it was on’ and others felt a bit of guilt for watching ‘trash TV’. Some felt strongly about the dubious editing of the show and the damage done to the contestants in their quest for fame. Some admitted that watching so many beautiful people increased their anxieties about their own bodies.
After an animated discussion with lots of strong opinions shared, we introduced the idea of an ‘audit’ of Love Island according to an ancient summary of what love is.
Love Island has only been around for a few years but this description of love has been read and shared for 2000 years. Love Island scored well by viewer-ratings and social media coverage but perhaps there were more trusty criteria by which to judge it?
So, we used this famous passage from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (I Corinthians 13)
Qualities of love
The young people were ‘coupled-up’ in pairs, mixed up between those who had watched a lot of the show and those who had seen less. As it was read, I asked them to write down on a piece of the paper the fifteen qualities that it refers to.
After this, each couple scored Love Island out of 5 according to how much they felt it embodied each quality (0 = not at all, 5 = lots). Then we collated all the scores from the 11 pairs of young people and used the average for the final score. These were the results:
- Patient – 0
- Kind – 3
- Does not envy – 0
- Does not boast – 0
- Not proud – 1
- Not rude – 2
- Not self-seeking – 0
- Not easily angered – 0
- Keeps no record of wrongs – 0
- Does not delight in evil – 2
- Rejoices with the truth – 1
- Protects – 1
- Trusts – 0
- Hopes – 1
- Perserveres – 2
So overall by this assessment, Love Island scored 13 out of a possible 75. A paltry 17%.
Popular and influential
Whether we like or not, Love Island is both popular and influential. It is easy to dismiss as trash but I think its better to be honest about its allure and specific about its weaknesses.
Some people think Christians talk too much about sex but I don’t think we talk about it enough. We need to have confidence that 1 Corinthians 13 is a better guide to love than much of what is peddled in popular culture.
I may believe that Love Island is toxic but it doesn’t work to just tell young people not to watch it. We need to equip them with tools they can use to make good assessments of what they watch and see. It was they who came up with the 17% score.
The most powerful part of the seminar was at the end when another leader talked about the experiences of her friend who had been a contestant on Love Island. She shared how painful the experience had been, how damaging it had been to her mental well-being and the nightmare that she and her family had endured on social media.
As always in matters of life and faith, nothing was more powerful than personal testimony. It summed up what our audit had exposed: Love Island may be intriguing, exciting and watchable but there is a core problem. There is very little love on show.