Saturday, August 6, 2022

Love Island’s Luca and Gemma are the punching bags of the internet

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In a world that feels perpetually polarized, it’s heartwarming when people come together. A record-breaking victory for England’s lionesses. Yes. The moment a disgraced prime minister announces his resignation. Last but not least. Watching Gemma and Luca lose to Ekin-Su and Davide. Thank God.

The latter might come as a surprise to anyone who wasn’t watching island of love. But those who did know the country’s united front from last night’s final, which resulted in victory for the so-called ‘Turkish Delight’ and her ‘Italian Stallion’ – and a national sigh of relief.

During the 90-minute episode, Twitter was rife with criticism for the runner-up, with viewers literally begging not to win. “I can forgive the British public for Brexit, but if Gemma and Luca win then this nation is truly ruined,” read a viral tweet. “If Gemma and Luca win then I will know once and for all that this country is addicted to misery,” said another.

Others claimed the couple “made love look like a prison,” while some went so far as to call them the “most hated ones” to ever appear on the show. It seemed like everyone and everyone wanted Gemma and Luca to lose, which begs the question of how they came in second place in a public vote that saw other fan favorites – Indiyah and Dami, Tasha and Andrew – come in third and four landed. But that aside, how did Luca and Gemma garner so much hate in the first place?

Let’s go back a little. At the start of the series, Luca was hooked up with Paige and Gemma with Liam, who left the series after just 36 hours. Just a few weeks ago, the 23-year-old fishmonger set his sights on the 19-year-old dressage rider, who is also the daughter of English footballer Michael Owen.

Initially, their romance was relatively drama-free. Reserved, passive, and, frankly, desperately boring, it was one of the least interesting relationships of the entire series. Slowly, however, that began to change as viewers began targeting Luca for his behavior towards Gemma.

Over the course of the eight-week streak, the Brighton native has been called everything from “possessive” and “manipulative” to “controlling” and “protective”. He’s also been accused of “overreacting” on numerous occasions, such as during the show’s infamous Movie Night challenge when he spotted Billy flirting with Gemma and later accused her of “entertaining it”. Or later when he confronted the islanders who voted him and Gemma the least compatible couple.

But the infamy kind of reached new heights after the Mile High Challenge, where each of the women dressed up as stewardesses and – as seems to be the case with all of them island of love Challenges – perform some sort of sexy lap dance for the men. Gemma did her due diligence and licked another male contestant’s breast in the process, prompting Luca to give her a derogatory look.

When Gemma later asked if he had a problem with her performance in the challenge, he denied it. She urged him: “Luca, don’t play fat… you pushed me away, had a face like a slap, are you 12?!” Licking other guys, sticking your head in there – but it’s a challenge. I can’t be mad at you for that.”

The argument culminated with Luca telling Gemma to fuck off before he ripped off his microphone and stormed out of the villa. Twitter wasn’t happy. “By the way, THIS is what gaslighting actually looks like [sic]’ one person tweeted. “Luca was clearly angry but wanted to make Gemma think she was crazy instead of being honest and communicating.” Another described him as “the greatest walking red flag of all time”.

Overall, this series of island of love sparked more than 5,000 complaints to broadcasting regulator Ofcom, many citing “misogynist behavior” and bullying by some of the male candidates, including Luca, “embarrassed and my deepest apologies.”

But judging by some comments on social media last night, the public’s dislike for Gemma and Luca doesn’t just concern one man. When third and fourth place finals were announced last night, viewers focused on the pair’s incompatibility. Several tweets suggested the pair didn’t have any ‘best parts’, while others suggested Gemma had tried to get Luca in the ‘friend zone’ on their last date.

It’s not uncommon for candidates to island of love to attract criticism. But this level of vitriol is quite unlike anything we’ve seen before — and it raises a few crucial questions. The first comes down to the production of the show. Earlier this week, former islanders Billy and Josh accused ITV executives of not stepping in sooner to monitor Luca’s behavior.

Speaking about an incident involving Tasha, Josh said so Secure the uncertain Podcast: “I feel like this is the kind of situation where a producer could easily step in and say, ‘Listen, you know, that’s how it comes across.’ But they step in when they want to step in, and they just sit back and like to make things come across a certain way.” Meanwhile, the contestant told Coco The sun that Luca had been “nice” to her and blamed “bad” editing for how he came across.

Comments like this serve to remind viewers of what we’re watching island of love is a highly curated one hour edit of a 24 hour period. It might seem cheap to blame someone’s bad behavior on the editing, but it’s worth noting that reality TV’s structure doesn’t lend itself to nuance. And why should it? As much as we’d like to believe that we’re above it all, a nuanced reality show just isn’t a program that everyone would want to watch. Instead, we often get a mix of victims and villains; two-dimensional characters that function within the show as they would in a normal scripted drama. That’s not to say we should condone Luca’s actions, but perhaps we should question the cast’s presentation – and how it’s being nurtured.

Here are two people who have spent the last eight weeks ostracized by society, with no sense of the time of day let alone social media opinions. What happens when they step out into the real world and find they are, well, hated?

Aftercare is a sensitive issue regarding island of love, as two of his former contestants – Sophie Gradon and Mike Thalassitis – took their own lives after appearing on the show. As a result, ITV has fundamentally overhauled its aftercare program and ordered a full review of its past welfare procedures. Now participants must attend at least eight therapy sessions when they return home from the villa. They also receive training on managing their finances and social media accounts. Contact will be maintained on behalf of ITV for 14 months.

This is of course all good and necessary. But can anything prepare someone to step into a world where so many people don’t like you? A world where people have attacked not only your behavior but also your relationship? Now they are also watching your every move.

As always, island of love continues to raise the same questions: Where do you draw the line between entertainment and ethics? And how much longer will viewers approve of the former without considering the latter? Even more: who is responsible for it? There are no clear answers to any of these questions. But it can’t be good that we keep asking her.

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